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Jin (third from left) is due to enlist in the South Korean military in December when he turns 30. Photo: Getty Images/TNS

‘Desirable’ that South Korean boy band BTS carry out military service, defence minister says

  • Defence Minister Lee Jong-sup signals he is not in favour of granting exemption to BTS members, but says he will respect revised law if passed
  • Opposition lawmaker Kim Young-bae last month proposed bill to allow pop celebrities like BTS to serve alternative form of conscription
South Korea
South Korean Defence Minister Lee Jong-sup has signalled he is not in favour of granting exemption to the mandatory military service to members of the K-pop boy band BTS.

Addressing the National Defence Committee’s question and answer session on Tuesday, Lee was asked for his views on a bill that seeks to allow pop celebrities like BTS, who have received an order of merit from the government, to serve an alternative form of conscription.

The minister said it was “desirable that members of BTS carry out their mandatory military service”. Lee, however, added he would “respect the revised law if it does pass in Congress”, the Korea JoongAng Daily reported.

South Korean Defence Minister Lee Jong Sup with US Navy Captain Fred Goldhammer on the main deck of the CVN-76 USS Ronald Reagan. Photo: Defence Ministry via Zuma Press Wire/dpa

The bill was proposed last month by opposition lawmaker Kim Young-bae, who said “Korean pop celebrities active in the international field make unimaginable economic and social contributions”.

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 nuclear-armed neighbour 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.

BTS received the Order of Cultural Merit in 2018 for promoting K-pop worldwide.

Two years ago, footballer Son Heung-min underwent a three-week military training programme after he was granted an exemption to his service for helping South Korea win gold at the 2018 Asian Games.

The question of active military service for the band’s seven members has been a hotly debated issue in South Korea as its oldest star, Jin, faces his enlistment in December when he turns 30.

BTS performs “Butter” at the 64th Annual Grammy Awards on April 3, 2022, in Las Vegas. Photo: AP

In August, Lee said the government could conduct a public survey to help determine whether the band should complete their mandatory military service.

He said his ministry would also look into other factors such as BTS’ economic effect, the importance of military service and overall national interests.

The mayor of Busan, where BTS will hold a concert this month to promote the city’s bid to host the World Expo 2030, had asked South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol to exclude the band members from mandatory military service.

Shin Young-jae’s, CEO of HYBE, which manages BTS, told the Asahi newspaper that finding an answer to the military service exemption issue was “very difficult”.

Reports said the Busan show could be the band’s last performance before Jin’s enlistment. Shin added the members were continuing discussions on the group’s future after the concert.