North Korea's Moranbong pop band 'refused to tone down praise for Kim'

Moranbong Band (right), led by Ms Hyon Song Wol (above), left Beijing on Saturday, when it was to perform at the first of three shows.
Moranbong Band (above), led by Ms Hyon Song Wol, left Beijing on Saturday, when it was to perform at the first of three shows.PHOTO: REUTERS

Explanations for N. Korean act's departure include China's ire over its nationalistic songs

Asked to tone down the fawning praise for North Korean leader Kim Jong Un at its performances, Pyongyang's best-known pop act packed up and left instead.

This is the latest explanation for the group's abrupt shelving of its Beijing tour last week as speculation mounted over the strained ties between the two neighbours.


Ms Hyon Song Wol, leader of the all-girl Moranbong Band, had ordered the group to leave after Chinese officials complained that too many of its songs were nationalistic numbers praising Mr Kim, Radio Free Asia (RFA) reported, quoting a source in Beijing. Ms Hyon is said to be Mr Kim's former girlfriend.


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, lawmaker Joo Ho Young of South Korea's ruling Saenuri Party was quoted as saying in the Chosun Ilbo newspaper yesterday.

"The National Intelligence Service (NIS) viewed this perceived slight as the primary reason for the abrupt cancellation," added Mr Joo, who is the chairman of the NIS.

Ms Hyon Song Wol (above)

But other reasons have also been circulating, including talk that China decided to send a lower-ranking delegation to the concert in protest over Mr Kim's claim last week that the North has a hydrogen bomb, excessive media attention given to Ms Hyon, and rumours that a band member had reportedly gone missing while in Beijing.

RFA reported that Chinese officials asked for some songs to be dropped after attending a rehearsal last Friday. But Ms Hyon said Mr Kim had personally selected the songs and nothing could be omitted.

Amid a tense stalemate, comments by a Chinese official that Mr Kim is being referred to the International Criminal Court for human rights abuses, and that the North should learn from China if it wants to prosper, angered the group, according to RFA's source.

The abrupt change in plans, however, was seen by some experts as another blow to ties, especially since the traditional alliance between the two has come under strain since Pyongyang conducted its third nuclear test in 2013. Some had billed Moranbong's visit as a sign of improving ties, possibly leading up to Mr Kim's first state visit to China since he took power in 2011.

Media reports said the group, formed by Mr Kim in 2012, left the Chinese capital on Saturday. This was the same day it was due to perform at a concert at the National Centre for the Performing Arts as part of the first of three shows.

No proper explanation has been given for its abrupt departure.

After running a string of reports playing up the arrival of the women, the official Xinhua news agency would only say that "communications issues at the working level" had forced the decision. The Chinese Foreign Ministry also declined to comment further.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 16, 2015, with the headline 'Band 'refused to tone down praise for Kim''. Print Edition | Subscribe