Seoul, South Korea (AP) – South Korea’s military appears to want to draft members of K-pop supergroup BTS for mandatory military service, as the public remains sharply divided over whether they should be given exemptions.
Lee Ki Sik, commissioner of the Military Manpower Administration, told lawmakers on Friday that it is “desirable” for BTS members to fulfill their military duties to ensure fairness in the country’s military service.
Earlier this week, Defense Minister Lee Jong-sup made nearly identical comments about BTS at a parliamentary committee meeting, and Culture Minister Park Bo Gyoon said his ministry would soon end his position on the subject.
Whether the band’s seven members should serve in the military is one of the hottest issues in South Korea as its oldest member, Jin, faces possible enlistment early next year after serving 30 years in December.
According to South Korean law, all unarmed men must perform 18 to 21 months of military service. But the law provides special exemptions for athletes, classical and traditional musicians and ballet dancers and other dancers who have won top prizes in certain competitions that enhance national prestige.
Without a review of the law, the government can take steps to grant special exemptions. But previous exemptions for people who performed well in non-designated competitions sparked serious debate about the fairness of the system.
Since the draft forces young people to suspend their careers or studies, shirking military duties or creating exemptions is a very sensitive issue.
In a recent poll, about 61% of respondents supported exemptions for entertainers like BTS, while in another, about 54% said BTS members should serve in the military.
Several amendments to the conscription law that would pave the way for BTS members to be exempt have been introduced in the National Assembly, but have not been voted on with lawmakers deeply divided on the issue.
Lee, the defense minister, previously said he had ordered officials to consider conducting a public survey to help determine whether to grant exemptions to BTS. But the Ministry of Defense later said it would not carry out such a survey.
In August, Lee said that if BTS members join the military, they would likely be allowed to continue practicing and join other non-serving BTS members on overseas group trips.
Those who are exempt from conscription are released from the army after three weeks of basic training. They are also required to perform 544 hours of voluntary work and continue to provide service in their professional fields for 34 months.