Thursday, December 17, 2015

NK girl band becomes rumor mill

Members of North Korea's Moranbong Band arrive at an airport in Beijing to return to the North, Saturday. / Yonhap

Korea Times | By Yi Whan-woo

The abrupt cancellation of scheduled performances by North Korea's Moranbong Band in Beijing, Saturday, is stirring up rumors about why it had to leave so suddenly.

Some sources say North Korean leader Kim Jong-un ordered the state band to cancel its concerts at the last minute for diplomatic reasons concerning Pyongyang's disputed hydrogen bomb.

Others have speculated that Kim was concerned about the privacy of members of the all-female pop band which he had reputedly handpicked, including band leader Hyon Song-wol, allegedly a former girlfriend of 32-year-old Kim.

Rumors are also prevalent that Kim took the scheduled concert as "blasphemy" ahead of the fourth anniversary of his father Kim Jong-il's death on Dec. 17 after approving of the Moranbong Band's trip to China.

Some also claim that band members sought political asylum from the repressive regime during their overseas tour and Kim ordered the whole band to return home immediately.

The Moranbong Band was scheduled to perform in China for three consecutive days starting Saturday as part of their goodwill tour amid a thaw in strained political ties between Pyongyang and Beijing since October.

Some 2,000 officials from both Cold War allies were set to attend the invitation-only concerts at the National Center for the Performing Arts in the Chinese capital.

According to sources familiar with the Chinese government, it deliberately changed the list of invited guests to protest Kim's provocative H-bomb remarks.

The untested leader said Thursday that his country has a hydrogen bomb, adding to international concerns over Pyongyang's nuclear program.

The sources said senior officials of the Chinese Communist Party's Standing Committee of the Political Bureau were initially set to attend the concerts but were later replaced with lower-ranking officials.

The sources said Kim also took it as a snub when he found out about the change to the list of invited guests and called off the tour.

The band, comprised of women in their 20s, had drawn media attention in China upon their arrival in Beijing, Thursday.

Photos of the band members dressed in military uniforms circulated online, including Hyon who was seen carrying an extravagant Chanel handbag.

Hyon especially caught attention for being present, following rumors that she had been executed after having a fight with Kim's wife, Ri Sol-ju.

Ri is a former member of the Unhasu Orchestra, a group of musicians highly recognized prior to the Moranbong Band's 2012 formation under Kim's reign beginning the year before.

"It's possible Kim found such photos uncomfortable, given that most of his people suffer from hunger and never think of luxury," a source said.

Cheong Seong-chang, a senior researcher at Sejong Institute, claimed that the anniversary of Kim Jong-il's death may have led to the concerts being cancelled.

"The country barred dancing and music beginning Saturday to mark the late leader's death and that's why the Morbanbong left Beijing in a hurry," he said.

"It's obvious that the band traveled to China under Kim's approval and their scheduled performances were abruptly called off by Kim."

Cheong speculated Kim will find a scapegoat to bear responsibility for any possible diplomatic fallout with Beijing.

"If such a scapegoat is executed, North Korea will face increased pressure from international community over its human rights abuses," he said.

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