Japanese politics rife with rumors of Kim Jong-un attending Tokyo Olympics

Posted on : 2020-11-17 17:14 KST Modified on : 2020-11-17 17:14 KST
N. Korean leader very unlikely to make diplomatic visit to country other than Russia or China
North Korean leader Kim Jong-un presides over a meeting of the Workers’ Party of Korea politburo. (Yonhap News)
North Korean leader Kim Jong-un presides over a meeting of the Workers’ Party of Korea politburo. (Yonhap News)

Japanese politicians are talking about the possibility of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un attending the Tokyo Olympic Games, scheduled for July 2021. Given the low likelihood of Kim actually visiting Japan, a Japanese newspaper has explored why such rumors are spreading in Japan.

On Nov. 16, the Mainichi Shimbun ran an article titled “Could Kim Jong-un visit Japan next summer? Exploring speculation in the government and major parties.”

The Mainichi Shimbun pointed to remarks by Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga as the immediate cause for politicians’ heated speculation about a Kim visit. During an appearance at the Budget Committee of the House of Councillors on Nov. 5, Suga was asked by Shinkun Haku (Korean name Baek Jin-hoon), a lawmaker with the Constitutional Democratic Party, whether he would meet with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, presuming that Kim visited Japan for the Tokyo Olympics. In response, Suga said he thought it would be a “good opportunity.”

At every opportunity, Suga has voiced his desire to meet Kim “without condition” in order to resolve the issue of Japanese citizens abducted by North Korea. “I won’t squander any opportunity, no matter how small,” Suga has said. Such remarks have raised the possibility of Kim being invited to the Tokyo Games.

Hopes for Kim visiting Japan rose even higher after Park Jie-won, director of South Korea’s National Intelligence Service, met Suga on Nov. 10 on a visit to Japan. Some South Korean news outlets reported that Park shared with Suga a plan developed by South Korean President Moon Jae-in to invite Kim to the Tokyo Olympics for a summit with the US alongside a trilateral summit between South Korea, the US, and Japan.

The Japanese government denied receiving any specific proposal, but rumors have continued to circulate. More grist for the rumor mill was provided by remarks made by Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) Secretary-General Toshihiro Nikai, a close ally of Suga, during a live BS Fuji broadcast on the evening of Nov. 13. “I think it’s a very good idea to use the Tokyo Olympics to find a way out of our diplomatic impasse,” Nikai said.

Most people in Japan think there’s little possibility of Kim visiting, given the absence of precedent and the lack of public support for the idea. Looking at past Olympics, North Korea sent Kim Yong-nam, president of the presidium of the Supreme People’s Assembly and its second-highest official, to the Beijing Summer Olympics in 2008 and sent Kim Yo-jong, first deputy director of the Central Committee of the Workers’ Party of Korea and younger sister of Kim Jong-un, as a special envoy to the opening ceremony of the 2018 Winter Olympics, in Pyeongchang, South Korea.

There are few examples of North Korea’s supreme leader personally visiting any country other than China and Russia, the Mainichi Shimbun reported. Two exceptions are Kim’s trips to Singapore (in June 2018) and Hanoi, Vietnam (in February 2019) for summits with US President Donald Trump.

North Korea has had two summits with Japan, in 2002 and 2004, but both were held in Pyongyang, North Korea. “It’s extremely unlikely that the North Koreans would agree to Kim visiting Japan,” said a source at Japan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, noting the North’s fixation on keeping the supreme leader safe.

Another reason Suga probably won’t extend an invitation to Kim is the Japanese public’s strongly negative view of North Korea, the Mainichi Shimbun said.

“There hasn’t been any progress [for a long time] on the issue of the abductees, and North Korea has accelerated its provocative behavior, including its repeated launches of ballistic missiles. Inviting Kim could backfire on the Suga administration.”

“Even if Suga could arrange a meeting, the lack of progress on the abductee issue would be a heavy blow for the Suga administration,” the newspaper argued, observing that the dominant view is that, at least for now, it wouldn’t be feasible for Kim to visit Japan.

By Kim So-youn, staff reporter

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