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North Korea's girl band abruptly leaves China
01:58 - Source: CNN

Story highlights

Moranbong canceled abruptly before it was due to perform its first show on Saturday night

Yonhap: Members seen leaving the hotel and at airport

The all-female group was formed in 2012 and was handpicked by dictator Kim Jong Un

CNN  — 

North Korean girl band Moranbong has canceled its shows in Beijing, China’s National Center for the Performing Arts said.

Famously handpicked by North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un, the band was originally scheduled to perform a week of shows in Beijing in a bid to improve relations between the two countries.

The all-female group, which sings synthesizer-backed paeans about the repressive leader’s “warm heart” and “sweet smile,” was scheduled to perform its first show Saturday night.

But the center for performing arts, the venue for the shows, posted a statement on its official Weibo account, saying the North Korean performances have been canceled “for a reason” and apologized to its audience.

A dispatch by China’s state-run Xinhua news agency later cited “communication issues at the working level” as the reason for the cancellation.

“China attaches great importance to cultural exchanges between the two countries, and is willing to work with the DPRK side to promote bilateral exchanges in culture and all other areas,” the dispatch said, referring to North Korea by its official name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

Ji Jae Ryong, North Korea’s ambassador to China, was seen accompanying Moranbong band members out of their hotel around midday and later seen at the Beijing airport with them, South Korean news agency Yonhap reported.

Read: New North Korea? Short skirts and synthesizers

Political reversal?

Prior to the trip, North Korean state news outlet Korea Central News Agency (KCNA) promoted the shows as “friendship performances.”

The visit will “contribute to deepening friendship and boosting the cultural and artistic exchanges between the peoples of the two countries,” KCNA said.

China is North Korea’s sole major ally. Relations between Beijing and Pyongyang have reportedly been strained since Kim Jong Un came to power four years ago, but there have been signs of a thawing in recent months.

In October, Liu Yunshan, the fifth-highest-ranking official in the Chinese Communist Party, visited Pyongyang and met with Kim, the most senior Chinese official to do so.

Beijing has also maintained its hard line on North Korean refugees, despite criticism from the United Nations.

On Friday, North Korea claimed it had developed a hydrogen bomb, although experts are skeptical the country could have made that advanced technological leap in its nuclear weapons program.

Read: Will China protect North Korea from U.N. justice?

Jung-eun Kim in Seoul contributed to this report.