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[Newsmaker] N.K. female band cancels Beijing show

Much-anticipated performances in China by a North Korean female propaganda troupe were canceled abruptly Saturday, sparking many rumors including one related to a possible friction between Beijing and Pyongyang over the latter’s nuclear program. 
Members of the Moranbong Band of North Korea arriave at Beijing International Airport to leave China, Saturday. (Yonhap)
Members of the Moranbong Band of North Korea arriave at Beijing International Airport to leave China, Saturday. (Yonhap)

The performances by the Moranbong Band were supposed to begin at the National Center for the Performing Arts in Beijing at 7:30 p.m., but they were called off just three hours before. They were scheduled to continue three days from Saturday.

Following the cancellation of the performances, which were seen as a sign of improvement in ties between China and the North, troupe members boarded a train bound for Pyongyang. The members refused to talk to reporters.

China’s stat-run Xinhua news agency attributed the cancellation to “communication issues at the working-level,” without further elaborating.

The rare concert was arranged amid growing expectations for the restoration of relations between Beijing and Pyongyang.

Since China sent a high-ranking official to the North’s 70th anniversary of the founding of its Workers’ Party on Oct. 10, bilateral ties appeared to be improving. Before then, their relations were strained due to Pyongyang’s recalcitrance over stopping its provocative acts, including its nuclear and missile tests.

The sudden cancellation of the troupe’s concert came just two days after North Korean leader Kim Jong-un was reported to have claimed that his country had developed a hydrogen bomb, an apparent indication that the North had secured considerable technology to build nuclear weapons.

Beijing’s Foreign Ministry criticized Kim’s claim, urging him to “do things that are helpful for easing (tensions) in the security circumstances.” Observers say that such criticism might have enraged the North Korean leadership to the point of calling off the performances.

Beijing, for its part, might have found it difficult to allow the musical event to highlight the close partnership between the two nations when the international community is increasingly concerned about the North’s evolving nuclear threats, analysts said.

“North Korea may seek to create an impression that by sending the female troupe to China and having it perform here, China is okay with Kim’s remarks (about the hydrogen bomb),” said Kim Heung-kyu, political science professor at Ajou University.

“China, of course, does not want to give that kind of an impression (to the world).”

News reports said that Beijing had lowered the level of Chinese officials to attend the performances by the female troupe due to Kim’s remarks about the hydrogen bomb, and that the decision triggered a conflict between the two sides.

“North Korea wanted Chinese leader Xi Jinping or Premier Li Keqiang to attend the performances. But China did not accept the demand, and proposed a member of the politburo of the Communist Party,” Yonhap news agency quoted a Beijing source as saying.

Cheong Seong-chang, senior research fellow at the local think tank Sejong Institute, claimed that the performances appeared to have been canceled as the communist regime declared a period of mourning Saturday to mark the fourth year of the death of former North Korean leader Kim Jong-il.

“According to a source informed of North Korea’s internal situations, the regime banned dancing and singing songs to mark the fourth year of Kim’s death,” he said. “Thus, the organizer in charge of the performances in Beijing will be reprimanded according to the source.”

By Song Sang-ho (