Seoul, South Korea It appears that the South Korean military wants to recruit members of the K-pop supergroup BTS to perform mandatory military duties, as the public remains deeply divided over whether they should be granted exemptions.
Lee Ki Sik, commissioner of the Military Manpower Administration, told lawmakers on Friday that it was “desirable” for BTS members to perform their military duties to ensure justice in the country’s military service.
Earlier this week, Defense Minister Lee Jong Sub made nearly identical comments about BTS at a parliamentary committee meeting, and Culture Minister Park Bo Geun said his ministry would soon finalize its stance on the issue.
Whether the seven squad members should serve in the military is one of the most important issues in South Korea because its oldest member, Jin, faces the prospect of conscription early next year after turning 30 in December.
Under South Korean law, all healthy men are required to perform 18-21 months of military service. But the law provides for special exemptions for athletes, classical and traditional musicians, ballet dancers and others who have won major prizes in certain competitions that enhance national prestige.
Without reviewing the law, the government can take steps to grant special exemptions. But previous exemptions for people who performed well in unspecified competitions have sparked a serious debate about the fairness of the system.
As the project forces young people to suspend their professional careers or studies, evading military duties or creating exemptions is a very sensitive issue.
In one recent survey, about 61% of respondents supported exemptions for artists like BTS, while in another poll, about 54% said that BTS members should serve in the military.
Several amendments to the draft law that would pave the way for BTS members to be discharged into the National Assembly were made, but were not voted on with lawmakers sharply divided on the issue.
Lee, the defense minister, said earlier that he had instructed officials to consider a public survey to help determine whether waivers would be granted for BTS. But the Defense Department later said it would not conduct such a survey.
In August, Lee said that if BTS members join the military, they will likely be allowed to continue training and join other non-working BTS members on outdoor group tours.
Persons who are exempted from military service are discharged from military service after three weeks of basic training. They are also required to perform 544 hours of volunteer work and continue to serve in their professional fields for a period of 34 months.
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