South Korea: Leftist Presidential Contender Risks Race Questioning Military Service Exemption for K-Pop Superstars BTS

LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - NOVEMBER 21: (L-R) Jimin, J-Hope, Jin, Jungkook, RM, Suga, and V of BTS perform onstage during the 2021 American Music Awards at Microsoft Theater on November 21, 2021 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images for MRC)
Kevin Winter/Getty Images for MRC

Lee Jae-myung, a left-wing candidate for South Korea’s upcoming presidential election, “voiced skepticism” on Thursday over suggestions Seoul should grant military service exemptions to members of “BTS,” a South Korean pop music boy band, Yonhap News Agency reported.

“Mandatory military service is a public duty set by the Constitution and we must be prudent about granting exceptions,” Lee said when asked by a reporter about the issue at a campaign event on January 20.

“We can’t deny (BTS’) contribution to the nation, but we must be careful because it will be hard to draw the line if we expand (the scope of exceptions) like this,” he said.

South Korea’s constitution requires all able-bodied male citizens between the ages of 18 and 28 to serve in the Republic of Korea Armed Forces for a period of at least 18 months.

BTS, a South Korean boy band that performs popular music, is comprised of seven members known as Jin (29), Suga (28), J-Hope (27), RM (27), Jimin (26), V (26), and Jungkook (24). South Korea’s left-wing, ruling Democratic Party of Korea (DPK) chose Lee as its official nominee for the nation’s upcoming presidential election on March 9, 2022. The 57-year-old previously served as the governor of South Korea’s Gyeonggi province from 2018 to 2021.

Some South Korean athletes and classical musicians have obtained exemptions from South Korea’s military conscription in the past by demonstrating “their roles in elevating the country’s reputation overseas,” according to Yonhap.

“There has also been talk of whether BTS members should be allowed to carry out alternative military duty in recognition of their contribution to South Korea’s national image with their unprecedented [U.S.] Billboard-topping hits,” the Seoul-based news agency noted on Thursday.

“In perspective of fairness, I think it is more desirable to allow military service deferment (for BTS), and exemptions should be refrained from as much as possible,” Lee told a forum hosted by the Korea Broadcasting Journalists Club on December 2, 2021.

“As far as I know, BTS is not asking for exemptions, and when the political circles stepped up to call for exemptions, its fan club ARMY questioned why the political circles were meddling,” Lee told reporters at the time, according to Yonhap.

The Wall Street Journal reported in June 2021 that “able-bodied men must report for duty before they turn 28 years old” in South Korea according to the nation’s constitution. It remains unclear if BTS has already been granted special privileges regarding South Korea’s military conscription, as two of its members are currently aged 28 or older.

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