BEIJING • An all-female North Korean pop band formed by leader Kim Jong Un abruptly cancelled a concert in Beijing yesterday, and headed back home to Pyongyang, Chinese media said.
The Moranbong Band was visiting China along with North Korea's State Merited Chorus and was due to perform at Beijing's National Centre for the Performing Arts.
The band is Mr Kim's pet project, part of his attempt to put his personal stamp on North Korean arts, and the short haircuts of the group's young women members are setting a trend in Pyongyang.
A member of the arts centre who answered the phone at the venue said the show had been cancelled due to "some unknown reason".
Chinese magazine Caijing reported on its microblog that the women had left Beijing, while online Chinese news portal Sohu said they had flown back to Pyongyang, the stage they were due to perform on having been dismantled.
Pictures obtained by Reuters showed the band leaving their hotel in Beijing around noon yesterday, their luggage with them.
The concert was to be their first overseas appearance. Chinese state media said they were due to give three concerts in Beijing.
There was no immediate word from North Korea on their sudden departure. The band's visit had been seen as an indication of improving relations between China and its isolated neighbour.
China is North Korea's main economic and diplomatic backer, but was infuriated in 2013 when Mr Kim ordered the carrying out of the country's third nuclear test.
Several subsequent rounds of sabre rattling by Pyongyang have also tested Beijing's patience.
Last 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 about the China visit".
The ensemble, whose members were reportedly hand-picked by Mr Kim, was formed in 2012 and was seen as North Korea's answer to the South's famous K-pop girl bands.
"In July three years ago, Kim Jong Un watched a demonstration performance of the Moranbong Band and appreciated it for having greatly improved all the musical elements - from theme and formation to arrangement, composition of instruments, technical skill and representation," KCNA said last week.