Seoul: North Korean leader Kim Jong Un on Sunday attended the first concert in Pyongyang for over a decade by South Korean entertainers, including a K-pop girlband, the latest gesture of reconciliation before a rare inter-Korean summit.
The visit came as a diplomatic thaw quickens on the peninsula after months of military tensions.
The 120-member group — 11 musical acts as well as dancers, technicians and martial artists — are giving a concert on Sunday and another on Tuesday.
Kim and his wife came to watch Sunday’s show, a Seoul culture ministry official said, making him the first leader of the North to attend a concert by South Korean performers.
Kim said inter-Korean cultural events should be held more often and suggested another event in Seoul this autumn, the South’s Yonhap News Agency said, citing a pool report.
Two other high-level North Korean officials, Kim’s sister Kim Yo Jong and nominal head of state Kim Yong Nam, also attended, the report said.
Taekwondo athletes also staged a performance before an audience of 2,300 in Pyongyang on Sunday ahead of a joint display of the Korean martial art with the North’s practitioners on Monday.
The concert went ahead at the elaborately decorated 1,500-seat East Pyongyang Grand Theatre.
The rapprochement was triggered by the South’s Winter Olympics, to which the North’s leader Kim Jong Un sent athletes, cheerleaders and his powerful sister as an envoy.
A North Korean art troupe, the 140-member Samjiyon Orchestra, staged two performances in South Korea last month to celebrate the Olympics.
Kim followed up by agreeing to a summit with the South’s President Moon Jae-in, and reportedly to another with US President Donald Trump. The young leader also met Chinese President Xi Jinping in Beijing last week during his first overseas trip.
The inter-Korean summit, the third after meetings in 2000 and 2007, will be held on April 27. No date has been set for the US-North Korean summit although it is expected before the end of May.
In another sign of eased tensions, annual US-South Korean military exercises which got under way in the South Sunday will last for just one month compared to some two months normally.
This year’s drills feature fewer strategic weapons such as a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, Seoul’s military has said. The deployment of such powerful weaponry during past drills has frequently drawn an angry response from the North.
‘Maze Of Love’
The most closely-watched group due to perform Sunday was Red Velvet, part of the South’s hugely popular K-pop phenomenon that has taken audiences in Asia and beyond by storm in recent decades.
The five-member girlband is known for a mix of upbeat electronic music, stylish fashion and high-voltage choreography.
Joy, one of the five members, would miss the trip to Pyongyang due to her TV drama shooting schedule, their agency has said.
Despite the North’s isolation and strict curbs on unauthorised foreign culture, backed up by prison terms, K-pop has become increasingly popular there thanks to flash drives smuggled across the border with China.
Other Seoul stars scheduled to join the concerts include Cho Yong-pil, a singer who held a solo sell-out concert in Pyongyang in 2005.
Kim’s late father and longtime ruler, Kim Jong Il, was known to be a fan of the 68-year-old singer.
Another famed singer, Choi Jin-hee, is set to perform for the fourth time in the North and to sing “Maze of Love” — a pan-peninsula hit and one of the late Kim’s favourites.
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