Sun. Mar 3rd, 2024

K-pop, military service and demographic decline: a heated debate in South Korea

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Statues on the edge of the Korean Demilitarized Zone (DMZ), a narrow strip of land serving as a buffer zone between North Korea and South Korea.

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As of this week, all members of BTS, the most popular K-Pop group in history, are serving their mandatory military service. But the debate on conscription launched more than two years ago continues to inflame South Korea.

In the country with the lowest birth rate on the planet, with an aging population and facing the growing North Korean threat, Who should the government grant exemption from military service?

The Department of Defense's concerns about its troop numbers, the sanctity of the draft, and fairness prevailed. A poll last year concluded that 60.9 percent of South Koreans believed that artists should comply with the conscription.

Fans of the seven young men of BTS, whose online streams number in the billions and whose impact on the South Korean economy is estimated to be around $5 billion, according to a 2018 report of the Hyundai Research Institute, clearly expressed that they should not have had to enlist. These fans are also nicknamed ARMY.

It's no coincidence that one of BTS' biggest hits, Spring Day< /em>, a nostalgic song about waiting to find someone far away, returned to the top of the iTunes charts this week in 83 countries, including the United States.

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In South Korea, all men aged 18 to 28 who are fit to serve in the military must enlist for a minimum of 18 months. Exemptions are only reserved for athletes winning gold at the Olympics or Asian Games as well as musicians and dancers winning international awards.

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K-pop boy band BTS members Jung Kook, RM, Jimin and J-hope pose for photos at a music conference press for the promotion of their new album “BE (Deluxe Edition)” in Seoul.

If the members of BTS were unable to obtain an exemption, the champions of the Asian Games in the e-sports category benefit, which fuels the passionate debates. The South Korean news site Naver even headlined this fall: They can receive the military exemption that BTS did not get.

There two years ago, South Korea's Defense Ministry, however, urged caution in granting such exemptions. Demographic decline is accelerating. Government forecasts show 230,000 men aged 20 in 2025, compared to 330,000 in 2020.

South Korea is still at war with North Korea from a legal point of view. The 1950-1953 war ended with an armistice and not a peace treaty.

The renewed tension with Pyongyang, which carried a record number of weapons tests this year and which claims to have launched a first observation satellite last month, fuel Seoul's fears.

The waters of the Korean Peninsula have been forced to become the point where the most war material is concentrated in the world, the most unstable waters with the risk of a nuclear war, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un even declared last summer, according to North Korean state media.

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The tourist center of the demilitarized zone.

Popular tourist visits to the joint security zone between South Korea and North Korea have also been interrupted since last July due to these tensions.

After American soldier Travis King crossed the border there in July, the United Nations Command (UNC), led by American forces, suspended tours of the famous blue buildings in the village of Panmunjom, where forces of the two countries are practically nose to nose and where diplomatic meetings have taken place.

Visits to the Demilitarized Zone, which include a tunnel dug by the North Korean army, continued. The demilitarized zone is a corridor 4 kilometers wide and 249 kilometers long, running from east to west.

Following meetings with UNC, however, South Korea's Unification Ministry agreed to resume visits to Panmunjom for small groups of people with close ties to the ministry. Tourist visits could resume soon.

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North Korea seen from the demilitarized zone.

We will work to resume general visits after carefully considering all issues, including the security of public, with the United Nations Command, indicated the ministry in a press release.

Across the planet, compulsory military service is in force to varying degrees in 85 countries.

The seven members of the South Korean group BTS promise to reunite with their fans when their conscription period ends in 2025.

Our correspondent in Asia Philippe Leblanc will be based in Taiwan for the coming months, to help us discover this island of nearly 24 million inhabitants, its society and the challenges that face it. #x27;animate. And also to cover current issues across the Asia-Pacific region.

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