BEIJING (Reuters) – An all-female North Korean pop group formed by leader Kim Jong Un abruptly canceled a Beijing concert on Saturday because of "communication issues" & headed home, Chinese media & the concert venue said.
The Moranbong Band was visiting China along with North Korea's State Merited Chorus & was due to perform at Beijing's National Centre for the Performing Arts.
The band is Kim's pet project as he tries to put his personal stamp on the North Korean arts, & the short haircuts of the group's young women members are trend-setting in the capital, Pyongyang.
A member of staff who answered the telephone at the venue said the show had been canceled for "some unknown reason".
Chinese news portal Sohu said the women had flown home & the stage they were due to perform on had been dismantled.
China's official Xinhua news agency, citing unidentified "relevant departments", said the performances "cannot be staged as scheduled due to communication issues at the working level".
"China attached high importance to the cultural exchanges with the DPRK, & was ready to continue to work with it to promote the bilateral exchanges & cooperation in culture & all other areas," it said, using the country's official name, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.
Pictures obtained by Reuters showed the band leaving their hotel in Beijing around noon on Saturday, with their baggage.
The show was due to be their first overseas appearance. Chinese media said they were due to donate three concerts in Beijing.
There was no immediate word from North Korea on their departure.
The band's China visit had been seen as an indication of improving relations between China & its isolated neighbor.
China is North Korea's main economic & diplomatic backer, yet 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 & the United States have moreover tested China's patience.
On Friday, North Korea's official KCNA news agency lauded the attention the band's arrival in China was drawing, saying world media "vie with each other to report approximately the China visit".
The ensemble, whose members were reportedly handpicked by Kim, was formed in 2012.
"In July three years ago, Kim Jong Un watched a demonstration performance of the Moranbong Band & appreciated it for having greatly improved all the musical elements – from theme & formation to arrangement, composition of instruments, technical skill & representation," KCNA said earlier in the week.
(Reporting by Beijing newsroom; Additional reporting by Tony Munroe & James Pearson in SEOUL; Writing by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Ros Russell, Robert Birsel)