SEOUL, South Korea — South Korea may conduct a public survey to help determine whether to grant exemptions to mandatory military service to members of the K-pop boyband BTS, officials said Wednesday.
The issue of active military service for the band’s seven members has been a hot-button topic in South Korea because its oldest member, Jin, faces enlistment in December, when he turns 30.
Lee Jongsup, the Defense Minister told lawmakers that he directed officials to conduct a quick survey. He said his ministry will also look into various other factors such as BTS’s economic impact, the importance of military service and overall national interest.
His comments caused a stir and his ministry issued a clarification stating that Lee had ordered his officials to investigate whether such a survey was necessary before launching it.
According to the statement, officials were asked for details such as which agency would conduct the survey and how long it would take. Also who would be surveyed. According to the statement, the survey will not be carried out by ministry officials or other related agencies in order to guarantee fairness.
The ministry said the results would be only one of the many factors determining BTS members’ military status.
All South Korean able-bodied males must spend 18-21 months serving in military service under the conscription system that was established in response to threats from North Korea. However, athletes and musicians of classical and traditional music, as well ballet and dancers, who are awarded top prizes in specific competitions, can be granted exemption by the country. They have been considered to increase national prestige.
After completing three weeks of basic training, those exempted from military service are allowed to leave the country. They are still required to complete 544 hours of voluntary work, and they must serve their professional field for 34 months.
Some politicians and others have called for expanding the scope of exemptions to include K-pop stars such as BTS because they have elevated South Korea’s international image significantly as well.
An earlier private survey found that 60% supported BTS military exclusion. A private poll in 2020 found that 46% supported exemptions, while 48% were against them.
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