01:59 - Source: CNN
North Korea's girl band goes to China

Story highlights

Kim Jong Un's personal girl band will visit China for a week of shows

The tour comes as relations between Pyongyang and Beijing appear to be thawing

This week the United Nations Security Council will discuss human rights in North Korea

CNN  — 

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un is sending his personal girl band, Moranbong, to perform a week of shows in Beijing as Pyongyang seeks to improve relations with its main ally ahead of an important United Nations meeting.

On Thursday, the U.N. Security Council will discuss alleged human rights abuses in North Korea that have been compared to Nazi atrocities.

Activists hope that the U.N. will refer Kim to the International Criminal Court and China, a veto-carrying member of the Security Council, is North Korea’s best hope of avoiding such a result.

According to North Korean state news agency KCNA, the Moranbong Band, “a model of the Juche-based literature and art and a worldwide stylish band, will soon give friendship performances in China.”

The all-female group were formed in 2012 by Kim himself, and sing synthesizer-backed paeans about the repressive dictator’s “warm heart” and “sweet smile.”

Moranbong Band during a performance in Pyongyang.

Signs of a thaw

Relations between Beijing and Pyongyang have reportedly been strained since Kim came to power in 2011, but in recent months there have been signs of a shift.

In October, Liu Yunshan, the fifth-highest-ranking official in the Chinese Communist Party, visited Pyongyang and met with Kim, the most senior Chinese official to do so.

Beijing has also maintained its hard line on North Korean refugees, despite criticism from the U.N.

Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying told reporters this week that those fleeing Kim’s regime were not “defectors.”

“Those North Koreans have illegally crossed the border due to financial hardship in their homeland. They did not go through normal immigration procedures and also disrupted public order in our border regions,” Hua said, according to South Korean media.

Biting the hand that feeds

North Korea is hugely dependent on China, its only major ally and the country’s largest foreign direct investor, according to the Korean Economic Institute of America.

In August, China announced a new $156 million border trade zone with North Korea, centered on the Chinese city of Dandong. The city is known as Pyongang’s “lifeline”, such is the amount of trade that passes through it.

The relationship, forged in shared conflict during the Korean War, has soured somewhat under Kim Jong Un, especially since the young despot’s regime conducted a third nuclear test in early 2013.

Beijing has repeatedly said it “resolutely” opposes Pyongyang’s efforts to develop nuclear weapons.

Ties were strained even further following the execution of Kim’s uncle, Jang Song Thaek.

“Jang was a pivotal figure in crafting North Korea’s relations with China,” said Lee Jung-hoon, Professor of International Relations at South Korea’s Yonsei University.

“That was a very bad signal to Beijing.”

Spice girl diplomacy

The apparent warming in ties may be an attempt by Beijing to get Pyongyang back to the negotiating table.

China is united with Japan and South Korea in seeking to “resume meaningful Six Party Talks at an early date to make substantial progress in denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula in a peaceful manner,” the three countries said following a meeting of high-level officials last month.

Beijing uses a “carrot and stick approach” with Pyongyang, Lee said.

“The Chinese are very pragmatic, they weigh the cost of keeping North Korea within their patronage. Apparently so far China seems to think the benefit outweighs the cost,” Lee said.

On Pyongyang’s part, Kim’s regime will be hoping that China vetoes any attempt to refer the situation in North Korea to the International Criminal Court following the U.N. Security Council meeting this week.

It is hoped that the visit by the Moranbong Band will “contribute to deepening friendship and boosting the cultural and artistic exchanges between the peoples of the two countries,” KCNA said.