BEIJING • An all-female North Korean pop group formed by leader Kim Jong Un abruptly cancelled a Beijing concert because of "communication issues" and headed home, Chinese media said.
The move seems to highlight the mercurial and secretive nature of Mr Kim and his government. It also raises questions about relations between China and North Korea, which have been rocky at times since Mr Kim took power in 2011.
The 20-member Moranbong Band was visiting China along with North Korea's State Merited Chorus, and was due to perform in Beijing at the National Centre for the Performing Arts on Saturday.
China's official Xinhua news agency said the performance could not be staged as scheduled because of "communication issues at the working level", while a member of staff who answered the telephone at the venue said the show had been cancelled for unknown reasons.
The shows were by invitation only. Yesterday, South Korea's Yonhap news agency said the cancellation could have come after China decided to send a lower-ranking delegation to the concert in protest over Mr Kim's claim last week that the North has a hydrogen bomb.
Citing an unnamed source who quoted an unnamed Chinese government official, Yonhap said the North had initially requested an audience that included President Xi Jinping or Premier Li Keqiang. China agreed to send a politburo member, but then decided to send lower-ranking officials.
The Korea Times cited experts who said the North might have decided to cancel the shows because the Chinese media were paying "too much" attention to band leader Hyon Song Wol, who is reportedly an ex-girlfriend of Mr Kim.
Dr Zhu Feng, the executive director of the China Centre for Collaborative Studies of the South China Sea at Nanjing University, told Lianhe Zaobao that one reason could be that a band member had reportedly escaped while in Beijing.
"The Moranbong Band's performance caused a sensation in China, so this abrupt cancellation is likely to be related to Kim's top dignity issues," Professor Kim Yong Hyun, who teaches North Korean studies at Dongguk University, told Yonhap.
The ensemble, whose members were reportedly handpicked by Mr Kim, was formed in 2012. The show in China was to have been their first overseas appearance. The visit had been seen as a sign of improving bilateral relations.
Mr Kim has not visited China, his closest ally, since taking power in December 2011. Even though China is North Korea's main economic and diplomatic backer, China has distanced itself in recent years, viewing Mr Kim and his colleagues as unpredictable.
In September, Mr Kim did not attend a military parade in Beijing hosted by Mr Xi to mark the defeat of Japan in World War II, but South Korean President Park Geun Hye was an honoured guest. In October, Mr Xi sent top Communist Party official Liu Yunshan to a military parade in North Korea - a move some analysts saw as an effort to mend fences.
REUTERS, NEW YORK TIMES