SEOUL – Disputes over a background scene flaunting North Korean missiles sparked the cancellation of a rare performance by a popular North Korean pop group in Beijing last week, a news report said Friday.
South Korea’s largest circulation Chosun Ilbo daily quoted a high-ranking South Korean government official as saying that the all-girl Moranbong Band, formed by leader Kim Jong Un, decided to return home rather than yield to pressure from Chinese authorities to stop projecting the scene of long-range missiles being launched on a large background screen on stage.
Chinese authorities who spotted the scene during a rehearsal urged the band to drop it because of the concert’s high-profile audience, including President Xi Jinping, the daily said.
In the face of strong objections from the band, China decided that Xi and other top-ranking officials would not attend the performance.
North Korea responded by canceling what would have been the band’s first concert abroad, the South Korean official was quoted as saying by Chosun Ilbo.
The reclusive country’s premier pop group returned home, hours before the scheduled performance was due to begin in Beijing.
There has been no official explanation from either North Korea or China as to why the band’s trip was cut short. China has said only that it wants to keep pushing ahead with cultural exchanges with North Korea.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei told a daily news briefing on Monday that “China pays great attention to cultural exchanges with North Korea and is willing along with North Korea to keeping pushing cooperation forward on all levels, including cultural exchanges.”
China has been attempting to reactivate six-party talks on ending North Korea’s nuclear weapons programs. The negotiations collapsed in 2009 following a long-range missile launch and a nuclear test by the North.
China has traditionally been North Korea’s sole regional ally and main provider of trade and aid, but ties have become strained in recent years as Pyongyang has pressed ahead with internationally-condemned nuclear tests.
Kim himself has yet to visit Beijing, three years after inheriting power from his late father, Kim Jong Il.