No military service exemption for BTS but postponement likely, says Korea’s defense minister

Published October 11, 2020, 10:43 AM

by Jonathan Hicap

South Korea’s Ministry of National Defense (MND) and the Military Manpower Administration (MMA) shot down the proposal to exempt K-pop superstars BTS from the mandatory military service but said they will consider allowing the idols to postpone their enlistment.

“Various social consensus should be formed, but at this stage, we are not considering an exception to the military duties,” Defense Minister Suh Wook told the National Assembly during an audit, according to Yonhap News.

But he added that “considering the period of time of their performances and their career, I believe that a deferral might be worth considering.”

Korean lawmakers have offered various proposals to help BTS with their military service, a mandatory duty for all able-bodied Korean men, who are required to enlist by age 18 and 28 at the latest.

The proposals, ranging from exemption, postponement or alternative service, snowballed after BTS topped the Billboard Hot 100 chart in September through their song “Dynamite.”

The MMA, the Korean government agency tasked to oversee conscription, also turned down the proposal for a military service exemption for BTS.

“At a meeting of relevant organizations last Nov. 21, we decided not to include pop singers as eligible for exemption, as it is not in line with the government’s basic stance to improve fairness and equality in the implementation of mandatory military service, and the decision has not been changed,” said MMA in a written reply to Rep. Rep. Yun Ju-keyng of the People Power Party (PPP).

However, like Minister Suh, the MMA will study the proposal to allow BTS to postpone their military service.

BTS (Twitter)

“As to the deferral of enlistment for pop stars, a revision bill to the Military Service Act is pending at the National Assembly, so we’ll review it with relevant ministries,” said MMA.

Proportional Rep. Jeon Yong-gi of the ruling Democratic Party proposed a bill last month that will grant outstanding pop culture artists like BTS the chance to delay their military service until age 30.

“Deferring military service is a totally different issue from granting exemptions. We need to provide the option to postpone enlistment for those in other fields whose careers flourish in their 20s,” he said.

This will be granted to pop culture artists who have been active in their field for at least three years, have made outstanding contributions to raise South Korea’s status and duly acknowledged by the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism (MCST).

The Korean government bestowed the Hwagwan (Flower Crown) Order of Cultural Merit medal to each of the members of BTS in October 2018 for helping spread hallyu, or Korean Wave, around the world.

Jin, the oldest member, was about military service during a press conference in Seoul in February for their “Map of the Soul: 7” album.

“Nothing has been decided yet and this is a sensitive topic but I believe that military service is a duty. If I’m called, I’m ready to serve anytime and if things are decided, I will try to do the best I can,” said Jin, according to Yonhap News. He is the first candidate to enlist in the military among BTS.

Military service for celebrities is a touchy issue among Koreans. Any perception that a celebrity is being given perks is usually met with negative comments.

Big Hit Entertainment, BTS’ agency, said in a filing with the Financial Services Commission on Sept. 2 that Jin will be able to postpone his military enlistment until 2021.

“BTS is composed of members born in 1992 to 1997, and are all eligible for their mandatory active-duty service. We believe that the postponement of Jin’s enlistment will be possible until the end of 2021, under the revised Military Service Act,” the company said, SBS News reported, referring to Jin’s status as a graduate student currently enrolled at Hanyang Cyber University since 2017.

Minister Park Yang-woo of the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism previously said they are working to help BTS postpone their military service.

“BTS and ‘Parasite’ have made enormous contributions to the country, both in terms of cultural and economic benefits. We are currently finalizing details, and defining criteria that will allow BTS members to delay their enlistment until the age of 30. We plan to revise the law by the end of this year. However, we have no plans to grant exemptions,” he said, the Korea Times reported.