First Secretary (now Chairman) Kim: “Fijimoto is like a politician” Zeroing in on former chef Fujimoto’s re-visit to North Korea (1)
Kim himself introduces younger sister Kim Yo-jong as deputy propaganda chief
Kenji Fujimoto (not his real name), former chef of the deceased General Secretary Kim Jong-Il, visited North Korea from April 12 to 23 after 3 years and 8 months interval. Japan is searching for clues to solve the problems of North Korea’s abduction of Japanese citizens, and what is the significance of Fijimoto’ s visit to North Korea? The answer may be found through testimonies of Fujimori himself and relevant individuals.
(Isami Ueda, senior staff writer)
A fax page with signature of Fujimoto was received in the office of secretaries of the Korean Workers’ Party. “I want to go to Pyongyang again to operate a restaurant.” Shortly after that on April 1, Fujimoto received a North Korea’s reply through an intermediary and was officially invited to North Korea. He applied for renewal of his expired passport in all haste and flew to Beijing on the 11th which was the day when his passport was issued. Equipped with a North Korean entry visa which had been prepared in advance, he landed at the Pyongyang International Airport (also known as the Sunan Airport) on the 12th.
He was first escorted to an invitation office and interrogated whether the Japanese police or media are involved in his visit this time. Afterward, as he waited in the foyer of the Goryeo Hotel in Pyongyang in accordance with an instruction, a black-colored Mercedes pulled in. A man in the passenger seat came out of the car and it was Kim Chan-sung, director of the office of secretaries who served as a guide when Fujimoto visited North Korea about four years ago. When the door of the car swung open, he glimpsed the supreme leader, First Secretary Kim Jong-un in the driver’s seat to his surprise.
After it was confirmed that Fijimoto’s health was all right and he took shower in his hotel room, he was brought in a car driven by Kim Chan-sung to a facility called “72nd Invitation Center” near the residence of Kim Jong-un.
At half past four in the afternoon, a banquet hosted by Kim Jong-un started at the Invitation Center. “As I extended my hand, the Comrade Supreme Commander (Kim Jong-un) grasped it and embraced me. I did not get an impression that he was too fat,” says Fujimoto.
Kim Jong-un initiated a conversation with Fujimoto, saying, “Fujimoto sent me a letter (Fax) frequently, so I wanted to spend time together with you as a public holiday (Day of the Sun on April 15 which is the birthday of President Kim Il-sung) is approaching.” North Korea continued its hardline policy this year through a nuclear weapons test, launching of a long-range ballistic missile and a submarine-launched missile. Why did it invite Fujimoto at this timing?
The Fax from Fujimoto caught eyes of Kim Jong-un who forgot about him for a while. Kim may have simply felt like seeing him again. This is a view held by some observers and experts.
During the banquet, Kim Jong-un himself introduced his younger sister Kim Yo-jong as the deputy propaganda chief. Choe Ryong-hae, one of Kim Jong-un’s closest aides and the chairman of the State Physical Culture and Sports Guidance Commission, was there too, but he appeared to be “somewhat stiff” according to Fujimoto.
When he visited North Korea four years ago, the welcoming party was attended by Jang Sun-taek, uncle-in-law and guardian of Kim Jong-un who served as the chief of the Korean Workes’ Party Central Committee Administration Department and subsequently executed by firing squad in December, 2013 and Kim Ok, fourth wife of General Secretary Kim Jong-il who presumably still remains in the circle of power. Compared to that occasion, there were fewer number of important leaders in the banquet and it appeared to be poorly attended. This may be due to the impact from an extreme reign of terror.
Restaurant in Pyongyang approved, possible re-visit to North Korea in May
Fujimoto said he did not carry the Japanese government’s letter to North Korea and he was not entrusted with a message from Kim Jong-un.
Seating order of the banquet welcoming Fujimoto (April 12)
Younger sister Kim Yo-jong, Deputy Propaganda Chief
First Secretary Kim Jong-un
Choe Ryong-hae, chairman of the State Physical Culture and Sports Guidance Commission
Kim Chan-sung, director of the office of secretaries
Kim Yong-nam, Chinese language interpreter
Note 1) Based on Fujimoto testimony
Note 2) Women were in their 20s except for a disco instructor
There was no need to explain Japan’s position on the abduction issue like four years ago. However, a note written by Fujimoto on Kim Jong-un’s statements during the banquet included the following descriptions.
“The relationship between my country and the United States is very bad and we launched rockets. But my country does not want to wage war at all.”
“Fujimoto appears to have become a politician. But I am not going to conduct a diplomacy with Fujimoto (in somewhat pouty tone).”
During the banquet, Fujimoto tried to fathom Kim Jong-un’s true intention, but it is not clear whether he came to a certain realization from his note.
The banquet ended three hours later, and as he walked away from the venue, Kim Jong-un extended his hand for handshaking. He said, “If you encounter some troubles, let me know.”
Fujimoto acquired a taste of favorite ramen in Tokyo and conveyed his request to open a restaurant in the Goryeo Hotel. Kim Jong-un said, “That hotel is old so you can open a restaurant in the new town,” and approved his request.
In the Japanese government, there are some who do not care much about the fact that Fojimoto as a private citizen serves as a messenger between Japan and North Korea.
Some people suspect that Fujimoto’s wife and children whom he left behind and reunited with this time in North Korea are nothing but hostages and Fujimoto follows North Korea’s desire after all.
However, the Stockholm agreement on reinvestigation of abduction victims’ fate achieved in May last year was virtually canceled by North Korea. Japan has not been able to find an opportunity to renegotiate on the issue.
Fujimoto is considering the possibility to visit North Korea again sometime in May.