The Chinese state propaganda outlet Global Times attacked Korean pop (K-pop) superstars BTS on Wednesday in response to a report that Big Hit Entertainment, the band’s record label, used a map in a corporate report that did not show parts of India as parts of China.
The Global Times and other Communist Party media arms have repeatedly attacked BTS, or Bangtan Sonyeondan, for similar alleged insults to the Chinese people. While the latest example is an indirect attack on the group, Beijing condemned BTS itself in October for thanking the American people for their contributions in the Korean War.
BTS is arguably the most popular musical act in the world. Late last year, the group became the first Korean artists to top the Billboard Hot 100 chart and the first receive a Grammy Award nomination. Their single “Dynamite” has spent 26 weeks on the Hot 100 chart; they sold over 9 million albums in 2020.
China has not escaped BTS’s global popularity, even though China banned most South Korean entertainment from entering the country amid a dispute with Seoul over the U.S. military placing anti-missile assets in the country to protect from a potential North Korean attack. Their return to the airwaves last year prompted a surge in interest and enthusiasm for the group that also fueled sales of BTS branded products to such a point that, while initial rumors claimed that Beijing had banned the items, the companies making them admitted they had merely sold out.
Failing to stop the band’s momentum, Chinese media have taken to promoting a Party-approved reality television program that will create what Beijing hopes to be the world’s most popular boy band. The program, Chuang 2021, has attracted no international interest.
The Global Times claimed that “netizens” — the Communist Party’s term for social media users who spread Party-approved opinions online — were outraged at Big Hit Entertainment for not properly recognizing “South Tibet,” a region of India that China has unsuccessfully claimed as its own.
“South Korean K-pop agency Big Hit Entertainment, which manages idol group BTS, raised eyebrows among Chinese netizens for using an incorrect map that failed to indicate South Tibet as part of China, but instead showed it as Indian territory,” the Global Times alleged.
In reality, “South Tibet” is an Indian territory known as Arunachal Pradesh, which borders Chinese-occupied Tibet. Beijing and New Delhi have disputed where the true border between the states is for decades, most recently resulting in military clashes along the expansive border. India increased its troop presence in Arunachal Pradesh last year in response to an attack by Chinese troops elsewhere on the border — in the Galwan Valley, part of India’s Ladakh region. China also claims territory there and alleged that Indian troops crossed into China illegally; the Indian government accused China of trespassing. In either case, Indian and Chinese soldiers challenged each other’s positions in the valley last June, resulting in a brawl featuring attempted stoning and beatings with sticks wrapped in barbed wire. According to Indian media at the time, India lost 20 troops to the fighting, while China lost 40. China refused to acknowledge any casualties in the incident until last week, when Beijing claimed to have lost only four troops.
Big Hit’s offending map reportedly appeared in the company’s seasonal financial report. Most other news outlets noted the content of the report: 2020 was Big Hit’s most lucrative year ever and 36 percent more profitable than 2019. The record label made $716.4 million in sales revenue and increased its operating profit by 44 percent year-over-year. Global Times focused instead on the “incorrect” map, claiming a pro-China “blogger” uncovered it and caused a stir on Communist Party-approved social media.
“A blogger who found that the map excluded South Tibet from Chinese territory later posted the issue in a discussion group on Chinese social media platform Douban,” the state outlet reported. “In the post, the blogger reminded the company to review and correct the map, so as not to arouse hostile sentiment between people on both sides.”
“The incorrect map irritated many Chinese netizens,” the propaganda newspaper claimed, citing anonymous quotes allegedly taken from Chinese social media. The Communist Party bans all opinions and people it disapproves of from the social media platforms available to the general public.
The report concluded by calling Big Hit a “repeat offender” against China, citing remarks by BTS member RM last year praising the United States.
The initial offense occurred in October, when BTS became the youngest-ever recipients of the James A. Van Fleet Award, which the Korea Society gives to honor “distinguished Koreans or Americans in recognition of their outstanding contributions to the promotion of U.S.-Korea relations.” BTS’s popularity in the United States, the Korea Society noted, had greatly elevated interest in South Korea and strengthened the nation’s cultural ties.
“The Korea Society’s 2020 Annual Gala is especially meaningful, as this year marks the 70th anniversary of the Korean War,” RM, one of the group’s members, said in an acceptance speech, delivered virtually in light of the Chinese coronavirus pandemic. “We will always remember the history of pain that our two nations shared together and the sacrifices of countless men and women.”
America and South Korea fought side by side in the active portion of the Korean War, from 1950 to 1953. As no peace treaty has ever been signed, the war remains ongoing, through hostilities have largely ended. America and South Korea fought against China and North Korea.
Despite China’s status as the enemy against South Korea in the Korean War, the Global Times protested that RM had not thanked China similarly to the way he had thanked Americans for their solidarity.
“Many Chinese netizens pointed out that the speech plays up to U.S. netizens, but the country played the role of aggressor in the war,” the Global Times claimed at the time, quoting alleged “former fans” who complained that “thousands of Chinese soldiers … sacrificed their lives in the war.” The fans omitted that the Chinese soldiers were killing South Korean soldiers while in service.
Chinese state media claimed BTS products had “disappeared” from Chinese e-commerce sites and that Chinese nationalists were abandoning the band. Less than two weeks later, the Global Times admitted that, in reality, the products had sold out because the band was too popular in China, then accused those covering Beijing’s outrage of sensationalizing China’s objections.
Chinese media have since announced plans to build its own, Party-friendly boy band through the reality show Chuang 2021. Unlike the band it appears designed to replace, the program has received little to no international attention. The Global Times nonetheless claimed Sunday that it had “become a hot topic on social media platforms both at home and abroad.”
“On Twitter and YouTube, videos of these trainees’ singing and dancing performances on the show have gone viral,” the newspaper claimed, without providing any engagement data. “Thai fans have been flocking to social media to show support for two Thai trainees Nine and Patrick.”
BTS remains so popular among Chinese people that Chinese fans painted large murals in the city of Gwanju, South Korea, slated to stay up for two years, this month to celebrate the birthday of band member J-Hope.