A female pop band from North Korea touring China abruptly canceled concerts in Beijing and left the country on Saturday for reasons unknown.
The Moranbong Band – formed by North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un – was scheduled to perform three concerts in Beijing beginning on Saturday night, in what was viewed as a visit to cultivate ties between the North Asian countries.
We express deep regret for the inconvenience this may have brought you
“We express deep regret for the inconvenience this may have brought you,” the National Centre for the Performing Arts, one of the venues of the concert, said on its website.
A staff member at the centre said the concerts had been canceled, but did not give a reason why.
The band has shaken up the reclusive country’s generally staid music scene with renditions of patriotic songs – along with Western hits such as “My Way” and the theme from Rocky performed on electric violins.
The concert in Beijing was billed as a “friendship performance” by North Korea’s state-run KCNA agency, which praised the “worldwide stylish band” as “the first standard-bearer on the ideological and cultural front”.
The performances would have been the group’s first abroad.
Band members arrived at Beijing’s airport in North Korean Embassy vehicles on Saturday afternoon, and departed aboard an Air Koryo jet, Chinese news website sina.com reported.
An accompanying North Korean musical troupe, the State Merited Chorus, also canceled its performances.
Although North Korea is well known for its unpredictability, the sudden cancellation of the concerts could hurt relations between Beijing and Pyongyang. Ties between the sides have reportedly been cooler since Kim assumed power in 2011.
The Moranbong Band plays the Theme From Rocky. https://t.co/l7RXJD3Aoe Party in Pyongyang.
— Carl Malamud (@carlmalamud) December 12, 2015
China has traditionally been North Korea’s sole regional ally and main provider of trade and aid, but ties have become strained in recent years as Pyongyang has pressed ahead with internationally condemned nuclear tests.
Kim himself has yet to visit Beijing, three years after inheriting power from his father Kim Jong-Il.
The North’s decision to cancel the concerts might have been related to stories circulated by the South Korean media about a rumoured past relationship between the married Kim and a female member of the band, which also made rounds on Chinese social media, said Yang Moo-jin, a North Korea analyst at the University of North Korean Studies in Seoul.
North Korea has built a cult of personality around the Kim family, which has ruled for three generations and sees any outside criticism or mockery of its leader as an attack on its sovereignty.