South Koreans will be surveyed about BTS and military debt

SEOUL, South Korea – South Korea may hold a public survey to help determine whether to grant exemptions from mandatory military service to members of K-pop boy band BTS, officials said Wednesday.

The issue of active military service for the group’s seven members is a hot topic in South Korea as its oldest member, Jin, faces conscription in December when he turns 30.

Defense Minister Lee Yong-sup told lawmakers he had ordered officials to quickly conduct a study. He said his ministry would also consider various other factors such as the economic impact of BTS, the importance of military service and the overall national interest.

After his comments sparked an uproar, his ministry clarified in a statement that Lee had ordered officials to investigate whether such a study was necessary, rather than launching it immediately.

It said officials were asked to work out details, including which agency would be in charge of the investigation, how long it would take and who exactly would be investigated. The statement said that if the study were to be conducted, it would be done by a third-party organization and not by the ministry or related bodies to ensure fairness.

The ministry said the results would be just one of many factors determining the military status of BTS members.

By law, all able-bodied men in South Korea must serve 18-21 months in the military under a conscription system created to deal with threats from rival North Korea. But the country makes an exception for athletes, classical and traditional musicians, ballet dancers and other dancers who win top spots in certain competitions because they are considered to have increased national prestige.

The discharged are released from the army after three weeks of basic training. But they are required to do 544 hours of volunteer work and serve in their respective professional fields for 34 months.

Some politicians and others have called for the exemptions to be expanded to include K-pop stars such as BTS, as they have also greatly boosted South Korea’s international image.

A private survey earlier this year showed that about 60% of respondents supported a military exemption for BTS members. But another private poll in 2020 showed that 46% supported exemptions, while 48% opposed them.

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