Japanese wrestler-turned lawmaker Antonio Inoki on Wednesday claimed he had broken North Korea’s information blockade with a visit to Pyongyang last week, and hinting that a delegation of other Japanese lawmakers might soon visit the country.
Kanji Inoki, 74, better known as Antonio Inoki, is a former professional wrestler and a current member of Japan’s House of Councillors. He visited North Korea between September 7 and 11 as the country marked the day of its foundation on September 9.
Speaking at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan in Tokyo, Inoki said the visit to Pyongyang – his 32nd so far – had aimed to open a line of communication and find a path to negotiations between Japan and North Korea.
“It’s important for us to make sure to keep its doors open,” Inoki said.
“Japan is, of course, the only country that experienced the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki,” he continued. “Therefore I hope that Japan could play the role of an intermediary to help lower fists held high by U.S. President Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un by half or even a small amount and that Japan could develop its independent diplomacy to play such a role.”
Asked about recent rumors in the Japanese press that Prime Minister Shinzo Abe might visit Pyongyang, Inoki said “there were also news reports that former Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi may visit Pyongyang, and there would be very high obstacles to realize Prime Minister Abe’s visit to Pyongyang.”
“Therefore, I believe if there were a chance to have Japan’s delegation go to North Korea, perhaps it would be a good way to go to start with other individuals to set initial talks and prepare for later visits,” Inoki said.
Inoki said he met with Kim Yong Nam, the head of North Korea’s parliament, and Ri Su Yong, a vice-chairman of Central Committee the Workers’ Party of Korea (WPK) and former foreign minister, as well as North Korean Minister of People’s Armed Forces General Pak Yong Sik.
North Korean officials reportedly accepted Inoki’s proposal for a visit by a Japanese delegation, including high-profile ruling lawmakers from the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), he said, but didn’t reveal the names of the politicians involved.
Inoki said Pyongyang has noticeably changed since his last visit.
“I saw a 70th-floor building this time,” he said.
Inoki, best known for fighting boxing champion Muhammad Ali in June 1976, stressed the importance of negotiations, citing his talks with Iraqi President Saddam Hussein over the release of Japanese hostages in 1990. He eventually successfully released the hostages by holding a “peace festival” in Baghdad.
The ex-wrestler has longstanding connections with North Korea: his former professional wrestling master Rikidozan originally came from South Hamgyong province, DPRK, and he organized a major wrestling event in Pyongyang in April 1995. Since then he has visited multiple times.
Edited by Oliver Hotham
Featured image: Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan
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