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North Korea band canceled tour after Chinese snub, Seoul says

Chinese officials discovered Kim Jong Un worship would be a recurring theme throughout the performance and began making changes that North Korea found unacceptable.

By Elizabeth Shim
North Korea band canceled tour after Chinese snub, Seoul says
China is mitigating speculation after the abrupt cancellation of Moranbong’s weeklong "friendship" tour in Beijing. File Photo by Yonhap

SEOUL, Dec. 14 (UPI) -- The abrupt cancellation of Moranbong's weeklong "friendship" tour in Beijing could have been the result of a dispute between Beijing and Pyongyang, but analysts said the outcome is unlikely to affect bilateral relations.

South Korea's National Intelligence Service told Joo Ho-young, a ruling party lawmaker and chairman of the National Assembly's Intelligence Committee, the Beijing concert was suddenly canceled on Saturday after Chinese officials discovered Kim Jong Un worship would be a recurring theme in the performance.

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Officials then decided to limit the spectatorship to low-ranking Chinese officials that incited a backlash from the North Koreans, South Korean news agency Yonhap reported.

Seoul's spy agency also stated North Korea's recent announcement that it has built a hydrogen bomb could have influenced Beijing's decision to act more cautiously.

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But China is mitigating speculation surrounding the recent turn of events. Beijing's Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said, "No further information will be provided" during a routine press briefing and told reporters to refer to statements from Chinese news agency Xinhua, South Korean newspaper Chosun Ilbo reported.

Without going into specific details, Xinhua reported a "communication problem" was the reason for the cancellation, and for the all-female band's return to Pyongyang.

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China's state-owned Global Times stated in an editorial Monday that the "lightning withdrawal" of the Moranbong band "is not good news," but that "the cancellation would not have the negative effect that some people think."

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Chinese analysts who spoke to Yonhap agreed the Moranbong cancellation would have little influence on bilateral relations, but Yang Xiyu, director of the Foreign Ministry's Korean Peninsula affairs office, said the leaders of China and North Korea still need to meet, and that it is difficult to ascertain when that could take place.

Zhang Liangui, a professor of international strategic research at the Communist Party's Central Party School, said it's unlikely Kim would visit China in the near future because of "potential disputes."

"China has been clear about its position on North Korea denuclearization," Zhang said. "And denuclearization includes [no] hydrogen bombs. China would not be in favor of North Korean behavior that violates China's policy on denuclearization."

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