SEOUL (AP) – South Korea’s military appears to want to conscript members of the K-pop group BTS for mandatory military duties, as the public remains sharply divided over whether they should be given exemptions.
Commissioner of the Military Manpower Administration Lee Ki Sik told lawmakers yesterday that it’s “desirable” for BTS members to fulfil their military duties to ensure fairness in the country’s military service.
Earlier this week, Defence Minister Lee Jong-sup made almost identical comments about BTS at a Parliamentary committee meeting, and Culture Minister Park Bo Gyoon said his ministry would soon finalise its position on the issue.
Whether the band’s seven members must serve in the army is one of the hottest issues in South Korea because its oldest member, Jin, faces possible enlistment early next year after turning 30 in December.
Under South Korean law, all able-bodied men are required to perform 18-21 months of military service. But the law provides special exemptions for athletes, classical and traditional musicians, and ballet and other dancers who have won top prizes in certain competitions that enhance national prestige.
Without a revision of the law, the government can take steps to grant special exemptions.
But past exemptions for people who performed well in non-designated competitions triggered serious debate about the fairness of the system.
Since the draft forces young men to suspend their professional careers or studies, the dodging of military duties or creation of exemptions is a highly sensitive issue.
Several amendments of the conscription law that would pave the way for BTS members to be exempted have been introduced in the National Assembly, but haven’t been voted on with lawmakers sharply divided on the matter.
Past moves by the government to possibly exempt BTS have drawn a public backlash. The defence minister earlier said he ordered officials to consider conducting a public survey to help determine whether to grant exemptions to BTS. But the Defence Ministry later said it would not carry out such a survey.