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China still wants North Korea exchanges after cancelled concert

BEIJING (Reuters) - China wants to keep pushing ahead with cultural exchanges with North Korea, China’s Foreign Ministry said on Monday, 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 along with North Korea’s State Merited Chorus and was due to perform at Beijing’s National Centre for the Performing Arts on Dec. 12.

China’s official Xinhua news agency said the performance could not be staged due to “communication issues at the working level”. [L3N141083]

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei told a daily news briefing 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,” Hong added, 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 Kim’s apparent claim last week that the North possesses a hydrogen bomb.

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

“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 tabloid said, without offering its own explanation for the cancellation.

The band is Kim’s pet project as he tries to put his personal stamp on North Korean arts, and the short haircuts of the group’s young women members are trend-setting in the capital, Pyongyang.

The ensemble, whose members were reportedly handpicked by Kim, was formed in 2012, and the China show was to be their first overseas. Chinese media said they were due to give three Beijing concerts.

There has been no word from North Korea on the band’s departure. Their 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 Kim ordered the country’s third nuclear test.

Several subsequent rounds of sabre rattling by North Korea towards South Korea and the United States have also tested China’s patience.

Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Richard Borsuk