South Korea’s parliament amended a law on Tuesday that would allow globally recognised K-pop artistes to postpone their mandatory military service to age 30. This bill was specifically created to provide exceptions for K-pop superstars who contribute to South Korea’s economy and promote its culture. In focus with regard to this bill was BTS, that has become one of the most recognized K-pop groups in the world.
What is South Korea’s mandatory military service?
South Korea’s laws require all able-bodied men between the ages of 18 to 28 to enroll in compulsory military service. South Korea’s constitution, implemented in July 1948 states in Article 39: “All citizens shall have the duty of national defense under the conditions as prescribed by Act.” South Korea’s Military Service Act of 1949, implemented in 1957, states that compulsory military service is required for men when they turn 19 years old.
Enlistment for military service starts at 18 years in the country. According to the Military Service Act, enlistment means that “a person under obligation to serve in the military enters the military unit by conscription, call-up or application”. Military service is not compulsory for women in South Korea but they may enroll for service if they wish to.
How long does this conscription last?
Military service in South Korea lasts for approximately 18 months, making it among the longest in the world, but the length depends on the branch of military where the service is being undertaken. The service is also divided between those who serve as active duty soldiers and those who serve as non-active duty personnel.
In the South Korean Army and Marine Corps, active duty soldiers serve for 1 year and 6 months in the Army or Marine Corps. In the Navy, they serve for 1 year and 8 months, while in the Air Force, they serve for 1 year and 9 months.
Non-active duty personnel serve in various branches of the government for 1 year and 9 months as a ‘public service worker’.
Are there any exemptions?
Exemption from military service was first introduced by South Korea’s President Park Chung-hee in 1973 for athletes in the run-up to the 1976 Summer Olympics, in an attempt to secure a better performance and more medals for the country. Post 1980, President Chun Doo-hwan had promised exemptions athletes who won medals in either the 1986 Asian Games or the 1988 Summer Olympics.
More recently, South Korea’s national football was promised exemptions if they won the FIFA World Cup in 2002. The national baseball team was also promised exemptions in 2006 if they performed well in the World Baseball Classic, an international baseball tournament.
Presently, medal-winners in the Olympic Games and Asian Games are allowed exemptions, where they only engage in four weeks of basic military training. Some athletes who have been granted these exemptions include superstar footballer Son Heung-min, who was a gold medalist at the 2018 Asian Games and baseball player Lee Jung-hoo, who also won gold at the 2018 Asian Games.
In the fields of arts and culture, exemptions have also been granted to South Korean violinists, pianists, and ballet performers, actors and directors.
What about K-pop stars?
This list of exemptions has not previously included K-pop stars, leading to many fans taking to social media to ask why these performers, who have been instrumental in promoting South Korea, its culture and music, have been left out.
Due to growing calls by fans asking for an exemption for BTS, last year, South Korea’s culture minister Park Yang-woo had said, “In the case of BTS, I personally wish I could allow exemptions for them under certain conditions,” but had indicated that the government was mulling reducing the scope of exemptions.
At that time, the minister had explained the government’s stance regarding K-pop stars. Yonhap news agency quoted Park saying: “Unlike classical arts or sports, it is difficult to fix the criteria of the selection in the popular culture and arts fields, which makes it difficult to institutionalise a waiver system.”
What does this bill do for BTS?
While this bill is not specifically for BTS, there is little doubt that the group’s success and recognition have contributed to its implementation. While Korean pop music, television dramas, films and other cultural products have been popular around the world since the 1990s, the popularity has grown exponentially over the past 6-7 years, resulting in K-pop and Koreans dramas becoming globally mainstream. 📣 Follow Express Explained on Telegram
This bill will ensure that entertainers recommended by South Korea’s culture ministry will be allowed to defer military service to age 30.
The bill comes at a time when Jin, 27, the oldest member of BTS, is nearing enlistment, with the other six members scheduled to follow. Last year, Bang Si-hyuk, the founder of Big Hit Entertainment, the company that manages BTS, had said that the group plans to fulfill their duties as required by the country’s military conscription laws.
“The company believes military service is a duty…We will try to show the fans the best of BTS until, and after, the members have fulfilled their service duties,” Bang had said.
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