N. Korean girl band’s performance in Beijing canceled

December 14, 2015
Members of North Korea's Moranbong Band arrive at an airport in Beijing to return to the North, Saturday. (Yonhap)

Members of North Korea’s Moranbong Band arrive at an airport in Beijing to return to the North, Saturday. (Yonhap)

BEIJING (Yonhap) — Performances by North Korea’s all-female propaganda band in Beijing were canceled, an official at a Chinese theater where it was to perform said Saturday, with members of the band abruptly heading back to Pyongyang.

The Moranbong Band had been scheduled to perform for three days in Beijing from Saturday, in an apparent sign of warming relations between the two countries.

“The performance was canceled,” said the official at the National Center for the Performing Arts in Beijing. The official declined to give his name.

In a brief notice posted on the Chinese theater’s website, the theater confirmed the cancellation of the performances by the North Korean band, expressing “deep regret” over the cancellation.

China’s state-run Xinhua news agency reported, citing a “relevant department,” that the concert “cannot be staged as scheduled due to communication issues at the working level.”

Officials at China’s foreign ministry were not immediately available for comments on Saturday.

Chinese and Japanese media reports say members of the North Korean band were seen departing for Pyongyang earlier in the day.

It was not immediately known why the North Korean band returned home hours before the performances, which are not open to the public and an invitation-only, were to begin.

Some North Korean watchers speculated that Pyongyang might have canceled the performances because top Chinese leaders, including President Xi Jinping, declined to attend.

Others said there might have been complaints from North Korea over media coverage of the band’s leader, Hyon Song-wol, who is reportedly a former girlfriend of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.

Kim Yong-hyun, a professor of North Korean studies at Dongguk University in Seoul, said the abrupt cancellation of the performances might have been due to stories about Hyon that undermine the “dignity” of the North Korean leader.

“Possibility is high that the abrupt cancellation may be related to the ‘top dignity,’” the professor said, referring to the North Korean leader’s dignity and authority.

Yang Moo-jin, a professor of the University of North Korean Studies in Seoul, said that if the cancellation is related to news stories about the band’s leader, “There might have been prior consent between the two sides.”

“If so, it would have little impact on bilateral ties between North Korea and China,” Yang said.

However, Yang said news coverage about Hyon by the South Korean media might have had a negative impact on inter-Korean talks that were being held at North Korea’s border city of Kaesong.

The band’s “friendship performances,” described by North Korea’s state media, were seen as the latest sign that Pyongyang is trying to mend ties with Beijing after years of strain following the North’s third nuclear test in early 2013.

Since Liu Yunshan, the Chinese Communist Party’s fifth-ranked official, visited Pyongyang in October and held talks with North Korean leader Kim, there have been signs of improvement in bilateral ties.

The band, known for its interpretive performances of the totalitarian state’s propaganda songs and Western pop music, including the “Theme from Rocky,” was formed in 2012 following an order by North Korea’s young leader Kim.

At the National Center for the Performing Arts in Beijing, some Chinese guests who were invited to the North Korean band’s concert voiced complaints over the cancellation.

“This is a diplomatic discourtesy,” said a 50-year-old invitee.