A North Korean art troupe arrived in Beijing on Thursday for the first performance in the neighboring country in three years in a demonstration of close ties between the two countries ahead of a second summit between the North and the United States.
The delegation, led by Ri Su-yong, vice chairman of the ruling party's Central Committee, arrived at a Beijing train station at around 11 a.m. and was greeted by North Korean Ambassador to Beijing Ji Jae-ryong and Chinese officials.
The North's official Korean Central News Agency said earlier in the day that the group left Pyongyang on Wednesday afternoon. It did not give details on the group's itinerary, such as the venue for their performance or the length of their stay.
The delegation was sent off by senior officials of the party, including Kim Ki-nam and the sister of the North Korean leader, Kim Yo-jong, it said.
North Korea announced Sunday it will send "leading artists" in Pyongyang to Beijing at the invitation of the International Liaison Department of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China.
The dispatch comes a few weeks after the North's leader, Kim Jong-un, made his fourth visit to China in less than a year and held talks with Chinese President Xi Jinping in an apparent show of strengthening relations between the two countries in the run-up to a second summit between Kim and U.S. President Donald Trump set for late next month.
This week's trip will be the first visit by a North Korean art troupe to the neighboring country since the North's Moranbong Band called off a planned performance in Beijing at the last minute in
2015 after China reportedly took issue with aspects of the performance featuring the North's nuclear and missile development.
Upon arriving in Beijing, Vice Chairman Ri was reportedly driven to the Diaoyutai State Guesthouse in a Chinese vehicle while the 280-strong art troupe went to a separate hotel for their stay in Beijing.
The troupe was reportedly composed of members from the North Korean army's State Merited Chorus and Samjiyon Band.
The North Korean musicians then moved to the National Centre for the Performing Arts to rehearse their performance, possibly set for Saturday and Monday. Chinese President Xi Jinping could possibly be in the auditorium for the planned performance.
The surroundings of the troupe's hotel and the national theater were tightly guarded from public view by Chinese police forces, as was the Beijing train station when the troupe arrived.
"The size of this performance team marks the biggest (North Korea) has ever dispatched overseas," a source in Beijing said.
"This record size reflects this year's meaningful 70th anniversary of the North Korea-Chinese diplomatic relationship as well as the countries' ties that have become closer through Kim's four recent China trips," the source said.