Korean culture minister echoes President Yoon’s stance on BTS’ military service exemption

Published July 5, 2022, 2:20 PM

by Jonathan Hicap

South Korea’s new minister of culture, sports and tourism has echoed the opinion of President Yoon Suk-yeol that granting Grammy-nominated K-pop group BTS an exemption from the mandatory military service should be based on public opinion.

Park Bo-gyoon, who assumed office as the new head of Korea’s Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism (MCST), told reporters on July 4 that granting military service exemption to BTS will depend on public opinion.

BTS and Korean Culture Minister Park Bo-gyoon (Big Hit Music, MCST)

“Military service is a sacred duty. Second, BTS has increased the world’s awareness of Korean culture and greatly improved Korea’s brand image, and third, we should strike a balance of pure art fields and pop culture,” said Park, Yonhap News reported.

According to Park, “I think public opinion is important, above all, even though we should reflect these three factors.”

A proposal is pending in Korea’s National Assembly that will allow pop culture artists like BTS to be added to the arts and sports field that may be granted exemption from military service. If this fails to pass, Jin, BTS’ oldest member, will be the first to enlist in the military.

Under the Korean law Military Service Act, “art and sports personnel” refers to “persons with special skills in the field of arts or sports who are assigned … and perform duties in the field of arts or sports to promote culture and enhance national prestige.” They are recommended for exemption by the minister of culture, sports and tourism.

All Korean men are required by law to enlist in the military by age 28. Through an amendment of Korea’s Military Service Act, which took effect in June last year, BTS members were able to postpone their military service until age 30.

If public opinion will be the basis for BTS to get a military service exemption, then they have the upper hand.

A survey done by Korean polling firm Realmeter in April showed 65.5 percent were in favor of BTS’ alternative service.

The survey was done on April 14 among 500 people aged 18 and above in South Korea. The results of the survey showed 65.5 percent (40.7 percent strongly in favor and 24.8 percent in favor) were in favor of granting military service exemption to BTS while 30.2 percent were not in favor, and 4.3 percent answered “I don’t know.”

Last month, President Yoon was asked about BTS’ military service exemption.

“I don’t think the president should state his position first. Depending on how the people view it, it could proceed in accordance with the law, or if public opinion is such, the National Assembly could revise the relevant regulations. I don’t think it’s something I should comment on first,” he said, Yonhap News earlier reported.