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North Korea’s girl band Moranbong cancels shows, leaves China abruptly

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

The Moranbong Band had been scheduled to perform for three days in Beijing from Saturday, in an apparent sign of warming relations between the two countries.

On Saturday, the band unexpectedly arrived at Beijing airport and boarded a plane back home – a scheduled flight whose departure was delayed for several hours.

The band’s arrival in Beijing was widely covered, but the show was not open to the public, the National Centre for the Performing Arts in Beijing told AFP.

“The sudden cancellation of the Moranbong Band performance is a show of bad diplomatic manners, and it will worsen ties between China and the North”, said Cho Bong Hyun, a senior researcher in the region. An accompanying North Korean musical troupe, the State Merited Chorus, also cancelled its performances.

The Korea Times reported Moranbong was recalled to North Korea to hush rumours about Kim’s relationship with Hyon, a former girlfriend after she received too much attention in the Chinese press and on social media. The concert would have been the band’s first one overseas and was one of three in the Chinese capital meant to improve relations between the nations.

China’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hong Lei said, “China attached great importance to the cultural exchanges with the DPRK (North Korea), and was ready to continue to work with it to promote the bilateral exchanges and cooperation in culture and all other areas”.

“It may put a halt on talks about creating a special economic zone between the two countries or carrying out large-scale infrastructure projects within the North”, Cho said.

Although it remains to be seen whether the cancellation of the concerts will further cool relations between North Korea and China, the cancellation “undermines the Chinese willingness and demonstrates the difficulty of dealing with North Korea”, the source said.

In October, Xi sent Liu Yunshan, a top Communist Party official, to a military parade in North Korea, a move that some analysts interpreted as an effort to mend fences with Kim.

Sporting short sequined dresses and fashionable hairstyles that are the world apart from the usual fashion favored by North Korean women, the Moranbong singers’ repertoire is heavy on odes to Kim Jong Un’s greatness with stirring ultranationalist messages.

Several subsequent rounds of sabre rattling by North Korea towards South Korea and the United States have also tested China’s patience.

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