South Korea may conduct survey on BTS members’ military duty

South Korea may conduct a public survey to help determine whether to grant exemption to the mandatory military service to members of the K-pop boyband BTS, officials said on Wednesday (Aug 31).

The question of active military service for the band’s seven members has been a hot-button topic in South Korea as its oldest member, Jin, faces his enlistment in December, when he turns 30.

Defence Minister Lee Jong-sup told lawmakers that he ordered officials to implement a survey quickly. He said his ministry will also look into various other factors like the BTS’ economic effect, the importance of military service and overall national interests.

After his comments created a stir, his ministry clarified in a statement that Lee ordered officials to examine whether such a survey is needed, rather than launch it immediately.

It said officials were asked to study details including which agency would be responsible for a survey, how long would it take and who exactly would be surveyed. The statement said if the survey is carried out, it will be done by a third organisation, not by the ministry or related authorities, to ensure fairness.

The ministry said the results would be only one of the many factors determining BTS members’ military exemption.

By law, all able-bodied men in South Korea must serve 18 to 21 months in the military under a conscription system established to deal with threats from rival North Korea. But the country gives exemption to athletes, musicians and artists who win top places in international competitions because they are considered to have enhanced national prestige.

Some politicians and others have called for expanding the scope of exemptions to include K-pop stars like BTS because they have elevated South Korea’s international image significantly as well.

The enlisted cannot delay their conscription after they turn 30.

A private survey earlier this year showed about 60 per cent of respondents supporting military exemption for BTS members. But another private survey in 2020 showed 46 per cent backed the exemption while 48 per cent opposed it.

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