December 15, 2015 10:03
The all-girl North Korean pop band Moranbong abruptly canceled a series of concerts in Beijing on Saturday because Beijing objected that their program was chock-full of paeans to North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, intelligence officials here believe.
China was going to send a politburo member to the concert but decided on a lower-ranking official when it took a closer look at the repertoire, Saenuri lawmaker Joo Ho-young quoted the National Intelligence Service as saying.
"The NIS viewed this perceived slight as the primary reason for the abrupt cancellation," Joo added.
Radio Free Asia quoted a source in Beijing as saying that Hyon Song-wol, who apparently leads the pop band and is said to have been Kim's ex-girlfriend, ordered the band to pack up and leave when Chinese officials requested a change to the repertoire.
The source said Chinese officials asked for a number of songs be taken out after they attended a rehearsal on Friday. They apparently explained that art and blatant propaganda do not mix.
Hyon demurred, claiming that Kim personally watched and selected the songs to be included and nothing could be omitted. North Korean Ambassador to China Ji Jae-ryong protested as well, which did not improve the atmosphere during rehearsal.
The source said Kim was briefed about the situation and seems to have told Hyon and other members "that he trusted them to make the right decision."
But Chinese officials insisted. Amid the deadlock Hyon suddenly took umbrage with remarks from a staffer at the National Centre for the Performing Arts in Beijing and ordered the band to pack up and leave.
The staffer, one of the lighting crew, reportedly pointed out that Kim is being referred to the International Criminal Court for human rights abuses, and suggested North Korea should learn from China if it wants to prosper.
But the Chinese Foreign Ministry declined to comment on the abrupt departure. The Xinhua news agency "already reported on the matter and I have no more information to offer," Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei told reporters.
Xinhua merely reported that the cancellation was due to "communication problems," and Chinese media did not report further.
Comments about Moranbong on Chinese websites were deleted, suggesting a deliberate blackout.
The Communist Party of China's International Liaison Department, which invited Moranbong, deleted photos on its website of its director, Song Tao, shaking hands with North Korean Workers Party secretary Choe Hui, who accompanied the performers and abridged related text.
Song had reportedly tried everything to convince Moranbong to stay, but to no avail.
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