(4th LD) China tightlipped on canceled concert by N. Korean music band
(ATTN: UPDATES with S. Korean spy agency's view in paras 17-19)
BEIJING/SEOUL, Dec. 14 (Yonhap) -- China's foreign ministry on Monday said "communication issues at the working level" triggered the sudden cancellation of a well-publicized concert by an all-female band formed by the North's leader Kim Jong-un.
But, it gave little away on what the "communication issues" were, why the concert by North Korea's Moranbong Band, was canceled, or how it would impact bilateral relations with North Korea.
North Korea's Moranbong Band had been scheduled to perform in Beijing on Saturday in what was seen as a fresh sign that ties between the allies were getting warmer after years of strain over the North's nuclear ambitions.
However, the North Korean band abruptly returned home hours before the concert was scheduled to begin because of unspecified communication issues. China's official Xinhua News Agency reported that the cancellation was due to unspecified "communication issues at the working level."
Asked about why the concert was canceled, China's foreign ministry spokesman, Hong Lei, replied, "The Xinhua News Agency has made a report on the relevant issue. I have nothing new to add on that."
Repeatedly asked about the reasons behind the cancellation, Hong replied several times, "I have no information to offer."
On speculation over the possibility of a negative impact on bilateral ties with North Korea, Hong also repeated the brief Xinhua report, saying "China attached great importance to the cultural exchanges with the DPRK (North Korea), and was ready to continue to work with it to promote the bilateral exchanges and cooperation in culture and all other areas."
The Global Times, which is published by the Chinese Communist Party's official People's Daily, said in an editorial on Monday that the North Korean band's "glitch won't affect" bilateral ties between North Korea and China.
"Given the strategic relationship between the two, the atmosphere surrounding the show might have a short-term impact, but will not affect the basis of their strategic relations," the editorial said.
The North Korean band's "friendship" performances in Beijing, as described by both North Korean and Chinese state media before the cancellation, had been seen as the latest sign that Pyongyang is trying to mend ties with Beijing after years of strain following the North's third nuclear test in early 2013.
Since Liu Yunshan, the Chinese Communist Party's fifth-ranked official, visited Pyongyang in October and held talks with North Korean leader Kim, there have been signs of improvement in bilateral ties.
Key officials at the Chinese Communist Party visited the hotel where the Moranbong Band was staying on Saturday, in apparent last-minute efforts to prevent North Korea from canceling the concert, a diplomatic source with knowledge of the situation said earlier on Monday.
Hours before the North Korean band left the hotel in Beijing on Saturday, Song Tao, head of the Chinese Communist Party's international department, was seen at the hotel with North Korea's ambassador to China, Ji Jae-ryong, the source said on the condition of anonymity.
Next, Wang Jiarui, vice chairman of China's rubber-stamp legislative body who plays a key role in relations with North Korea, also arrived at the hotel on Saturday afternoon, the source said.
"To my knowledge, the Chinese officials had persuaded North Korea to go ahead with the performance as scheduled," the source said. "But North Korea eventually called off the performance."
The exact reason behind the sudden cancellation of the concert remains unclear, according to the source.
South Korea's state spy agency believes North Korea and China might have had a dispute over the contents of the Moranbong Band's performance, said National Assembly officials in Seoul.
In a phone report to Rep. Joo Ho-young, head of the National Assembly's intelligence committee, the National Intelligence Service (NIS) said China probably was uneasy about a performance full of propaganda extolling leader Kim Jong-un, they said.
It's presumed that China changed the audience to lower level officials and the North was upset with the decision, the NIS was quoted as telling Joo.
Meanwhile, North Korea has also taken down a group of news articles and pictures that promoted the China concerts from its major propaganda websites.
Since late last week till Sunday, the North carried a special section on the front page of its propaganda website DPRK Today in promotion of the concert tour, but that section was removed from the page monitored in Seoul.
News reports and photo stories on the band's arrival in Beijing have also been deleted from the home page of North Korea's state-run Korean Central News Agency as of Monday as Pyongyang also remains silent on the reason behind the incident.