SHANGHAI (Reuters) - North Korea held secretive national day celebrations at the Shanghai Expo on Monday, shutting out most visitors and media for a singing and dancing extravaganza that brushed over the country's diplomatic woes.
Isolated and poverty-struck North Korea is participating in the Expo for the first time and making a big push to impress China, its only real ally, to illustrate close bilateral ties that have been strained by the North's nuclear program.
But the performances of traditional Korean folk dances and songs by heavily made-up men and women put on by the North Korean delegation were only available to view on Chinese state television and by a handful of specially selected guests.
A brief, tersely worded statement on the Shanghai Expo's website (www.expo2010.cn) advised the activities were "not open to the public," and asked for people's understanding.
Chinese state radio quoted an unnamed North Korean official as saying their Expo national day "would make contributions toward friendship between the countries' peoples."
However, visitors and foreign journalists were cordoned off some 200 meters (660 ft) from the country's red carpet flag-raising ceremony in the morning and could only catch a glimpse of the dignitaries and guests filing into the auditorium.
"I hope North Korea can be more like China and open up. I think North Korea should learn from China and slowly, slowly change," said Zhao Kaicheng, 57, watching from afar.
North Korea also restricted international media from entering its national pavilion, whose theme is "Paradise of the People," showcasing its model capital Pyongyang and making no mention of the country's enormous economic problems.
Gu Ting, 24, from the eastern province of Jiangsu, said North Korea was a curious reminder of how China once was.
"This generation of Chinese have not seen what China used to be like, so we want to see the North Korean pavilion," he said, as he waited for the pavilion to open.
Many visitors who emerged after a four-hour wait to enter said there was little to see.
"We thought it was worth queuing up for because internationally there is very little exposure to the country," said Taiwan visitor Angel. "But the pavilion did not have much inside."
Editing by Ben Blanchard