Kim Jong Un’s favorite North Korean band abruptly leaves China

13 Dec 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Band favored by North Korean leader cancels Beijing concerts.

North and South Korea agreed Friday to extend rare, high-level talks into a second day, following an initial round of discussions aimed at building on an August agreement to ease cross-border tensions. BEIJING — An all-female band formed by North Korean leader Kim Jong Un canceled its concerts in Beijing and abruptly left the Chinese capital due to unspecified communication issues, possibly further cooling relations between the traditional allies. The vice-minister level talks, held on the North Korean side of the border in the jointly-run Kaesong industrial zone, will resume Saturday morning, Seoul’s Unification Ministry said. The fact that both sides agreed to keep talking will be seen as a positive step for a process that was never likely to produce any substantial breakthrough. The group, Moranbong Band, has about 20 members, all slim young women who wear tight dresses and high heels while performing both Western pop songs and North Korean revolutionary standards.

The performance “cannot be staged as scheduled due to communication issues at the working level,” the official Xinhua News Agency said, citing a news release from unnamed “relevant departments.” Band members arrived at Beijing’s airport in North Korean Embassy vehicles on Saturday afternoon, and departed aboard a North Korean Air Koryo jet shortly after 4 p.m. following a lengthy delay, Chinese news website reported. But instead, the band’s members headed to the capital’s airport, according to Chinese news portal Sohu, which added the performance venue where they were scheduled to play had begun dismantling their stage.

Previous efforts to establish a regular dialogue have tended to falter after an initial meeting — reflecting decades of animosity and mistrust between two countries that have remained technically at war since the end of the 1950-53 Korean conflict. They are a contrast to the staid image of the brand of authoritarian socialism that has existed for decades in North Korea under the rule of three generations of the same family.

A staff member at the National Theater, where the band was to give the invitation-only performances, said the concerts had been canceled, but did not give a reason. Japanese network NTV showed footage of women in military coats arriving at the flight hub, while pictures of the band’s disappearing act showed up on Chinese social media. Friday’s talks were the fruit of an August accord that saw both sides step back from the brink of an armed conflict and commit to a process of de-escalation. “Let’s take a crucial first step to pave the way for reunification. The photos show the women, clad in long coats and tall fur hats, getting out of a van in front of the airport, before striding past bystanders snapping pictures with their cell phones. I hope various pending issues will be solved one by one,” South Korea’s chief delegate Hwang Boo-Gi told his North Korean counterpart Jon Jong-Su as they shook hands in the morning.

Calls to the International Department of the Communist Party’s Central Committee, which organizes exchanges with foreign political parties, rang unanswered on Sunday and there was no statement available online. 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. It also raised questions about the state of relations between China and North Korea, which have been rocky at times since Kim took power in late 2011.

Although North Korea is well known for its unpredictability, the sudden cancellation of the concerts could hurt relations between Beijing and Pyongyang. North Korea has built a cult of personality around the Kim family, which has ruled for three generations, and sees any outside criticism or mockery of its leader as an attack on its sovereignty. “There are few things the North takes more seriously than an attack on the dignity of its supreme leadership, and it might have decided to bring the female members of the band back quickly to cut off such reports,” Yang said. The band’s arrival in Beijing was widely covered, but the show was not open to the public, the National Center for the Performing Arts in Beijing told AFP. Currently the reunions are being held less than once a year and with only a very limited number of participants — despite a huge waiting list of largely elderly South Koreans desperate to see their relatives in the North before they die. The band have shaken up the reclusive country’s generally staid music scene with renditions of patriotic songs, along with Western hits such as My Way and the theme from Rocky performed on electric violins.

For South Korean President Park Geun-Hye, who came to power with pledges of closer engagement with Pyongyang, a deal on the reunions would represent a welcome feather in her cap. Park has repeatedly talked up the prospect of eventual Korean re-unification, but has offered little in policy terms to ease tensions with the perennially belligerent North. However, Kim’s unwillingness to visit China and his government’s refusal to restart denuclearization talks have frustrated the Chinese leadership.

One person, writing under the name Tianping Kuihua, said sarcastically that Kim had a knack for strategy: “One moment he is sending his imperial harems and beauties to attract the attention of the Chinese people, and another moment he is announcing he has a hydrogen bomb. He is playing his boss like a monkey!” The band’s embrace of Western pop culture and the sexy attire of the members led some North Korea analysts to proclaim in 2012 that Kim, who had just taken power, would adopt a more liberal economic model and quickly open up the country.

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