China still wants N. Korea exchanges

BEIJING • China wants to keep pushing ahead with cultural exchanges with North Korea, its Foreign Ministry said, after an all-female North Korean pop group formed by leader Kim Jong Un abruptly cancelled a Beijing concert and went home.

The Moranbong Band was visiting China with North Korea's State Merited Chorus and due to perform at Beijing's National Centre for the Performing Arts on Saturday.

China's official Xinhua news agency said the performance could not be staged due to "communication issues at the working level".

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei told a daily news conference yesterday he had nothing to add to the Xinhua report. "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," Mr Hong said, without elaborating.

Speculation has swirled about the reason for the cancellation.

On Sunday, South Korea's Yonhap news agency said the North Koreans may have cancelled the show after China decided to send a lower-ranking delegation in protest over Mr Kim's apparent claim last week that the North possesses a hydrogen bomb.

The Global Times, an influential Chinese tabloid published by the ruling Communist Party's official People's Daily, in an editorial yesterday called what happened a "glitch" that would not affect China's ties with North Korea, though it admitted the cancellation was "a bit odd".

Moranbong, whose members were reportedly handpicked by Mr Kim, was formed in 2012. The China show was to be its first overseas. Chinese media said the group was due to give three Beijing concerts.

There has been no word from North Korea on the band's departure. Its visit was seen as an indication of improving relations between China and its isolated neighbour.

China is North Korea's main economic and diplomatic backer, but was infuriated in 2013 when Mr Kim ordered the country's third nuclear test.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 15, 2015, with the headline 'China still wants N. Korea exchanges'. Print Edition | Subscribe