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North Korea

A date to remember: Moon and Kim Jong-un’s sister enjoy concert at climax of landmark peace visit

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 11 February, 2018, 10:58pm
UPDATED : Monday, 12 February, 2018, 2:10pm

South Korean President Moon Jae-in sat next to the powerful sister of the North’s leader Kim Jong-un at a concert in Seoul by musicians from Pyongyang, as conservative protesters burned the North’s flag outside on Sunday. 

The show was the final set-piece element of the North Korean delegation’s landmark visit, the diplomatic highlight of the Olympics-driven rapprochement between the two halves of the peninsula, and they flew back home afterwards.

They have shared kimchi and soju with Moon, sat in the same box at the Olympics opening ceremony and cheered a unified women’s ice hockey team together.

Kim on Saturday invited Moon to a summit in the North, an offer extended by his sister and special envoy Kim Yo-jong, who made history as the first member of the North’s ruling dynasty to visit the South since the Korean war.

Moon did not immediately accept the invitation and has said he hopes the “right conditions” will be created so it can go ahead.

Pictures showed Kim Yo-jong sitting between Moon and the North’s ceremonial head of state Kim Yong-nam, who is officially leading the North’s delegation, and applauding at Sunday’s concert.The show by Pyongyang’s Samjiyon Orchestra featured a surprise appearance by Seohyun, of top South Korean K-pop girl band Girls Generation. 

It was part of a cross-border deal in which the isolated nuclear-armed North sent hundreds of athletes, cheerleaders and others to the Pyeongchang Winter Games in the South. 

At an earlier dinner with senior Seoul officials, Kim Yo-jong said she found the two Koreas still had much in common despite decades of separation. 

Before flying south, she said, she had expected “things would be very different and unfamiliar”, according to a statement from Moon’s office. 

“But it turned out that there were many things similar and in common,” she went on. “I hope that the day we become one will be brought forward.”

But the rapprochement pushed by the dovish Moon has angered conservatives, who accuse him of being a North Korea sympathiser and undermining the security alliance with the US. 

“Having these red communists in the heart of Seoul is an utter humiliation!” one shouted near the venue as dozens of others waved banners condemning Moon and Kim Jong-un. 

“We are against the ugly political Olympics!” said one banner.

Some set a North Korean flag on fire before police intervened, and others chanted “Let’s tear Kim Jong-un to death!” as they ripped up posters of his portrait.

The North’s presence has dominated the headlines in the early days of the Olympics, with all eyes turning to Swiss-educated Kim Yo-jong, believed to be 30, who is among her brother’s closest confidantes.

Sunday’s 100-minute concert – the orchestra’s second and final show – included about 40 songs, among them South Korean pop hits as well as North Korean and other world music. 

Seoul’s television shows and K-pop songs are smuggled across the border with China and known to be popular among many North Koreans despite the risk of severe punishment.  

At one point Hyon Song-wol, leader of the North’s popular Moranbong girl band, took to the stage to perform a unification-themed song.

Public interest in the show was huge, with nearly 120,000 people applying for just 1,000 tickets.

Civilian contact is strictly banned between the two Koreas, which have been divided since the 1950-53 Korean war ended with an armistice instead of a peace treaty.

Tensions soared last year as the North staged a series of nuclear and missile tests in violation of UN resolutions, while leader Kim and US President Donald Trump traded colourful insults and threats of war.

Moon has long sought engagement with the North to bring it to the negotiating table, and for months has promoted Pyeongchang as a “peace Olympics”.