K-Pop Stars Become Scapegoats in China’s Protests Against Anti-Missile Deployment

August 7, 2016 Updated: August 9, 2016

A backlash against South Korea over its deployment of the American THAAD missile defense program might be hitting a most visible export product: its pop culture.

THAAD is an acronym for Terminal High Altitude Area Defense, a system that was installed last month in South Korea to defend against potential attack by ballistic missiles from a belligerent North Korea.

Korean drama and K-pop enjoy great popularity in China. Shows such as The Heirs and Descendants of the Sun broke sales record in the Chinese market as part of a “Korean wave” in pop culture.

But the Chinese authorities, having consistently voiced displeasure at the THAAD deployment that can defend against Chinese as well as North Korean missiles, now seem to be putting pressure on South Korean performers and media in retaliation.

On Aug. 2, the state-run China Central Television reported an upcoming ban on Korean shows. Several Korean actors have cancelled promotional events in China, and Koreans set to play lead roles in Chinese productions have been replaced, the Sohu news outlet reported.

Several Korean actors have canceled their promotional events in China, including EXO’s concert scheduled in late August. Korean lead roles in the Chinese drama were replaced, and Chinese visa agencies in Korea have halted handling business visas.  A “blacklist” circulated online estimates 42 Korean stars and 53 TV plays to suffer from the upcoming ban, according to the popular Chinese news website NetEase.

Yoo In-na, a Korean actress known for her casting in the romantic drama film “Queen In-hyun’s Man,” was reportedly forced out of “Love Weaves Through a Millennium,” a Chinese version of the original film, just a month before its September release. Yoo’s agency said she had finished most of the shooting.

South Korean actress Yoo In-Na attending a MAC Cosmetics store opening in Seoul on Nov. 28, 2013.  (Starnews/AFP/Getty Images)
South Korean actress Yoo In-Na attending a MAC Cosmetics store opening in Seoul on Nov. 28, 2013.
(Starnews/AFP/Getty Images)

YG Entertainment, the Korean firm that Yoo works under, denied allegations that she had been removed due to political pressure from China, but said it “could observe significant changes in the atmosphere,” according to the Korea Herald, an English-language newspaper.  

Although unconfirmed, Sohu says that the scare has already taken its toll on the Korean stock market. Four major Korean firms recently experienced a decline in shares totalling 360 billion Korean won (about 300 million dollars) in three days.

China’s state-run media has gone on a full force attack against South Korean products, saying that the ban represents the will of the people. Chinese citizens though, expressed frustration online over the measures, according to China Times.

Sun Yueming, a 23-year-old college student and an avid fan in Korean culture, was disappointed upon finding less Korean videos on streaming websites. “When I watch drama or listen to music, it is almost always Korean. I am sad thinking that there will be less content available in the future,” Sun told Nikkei, a Japanese newspaper.

“I object to the move, not because I like a particular Korean work or actor, since I am not an expert in fashion. But it is one thing that a governmental institution blocks it and it is another for people to willingly resist it,” wrote Nuadha on Guancha.cn, an online news and comments website.

None of the discontent was acknowledged in the state media reports, however. “It reflects Chinese placing love for their home country before popularity of entertainment stars,” Xinhua’s English edition claimed in an Aug. 4 article reporting on the declining stock prices of Korean entertainment agencies in China.

The Xinhua news agency, a mouthpiece for the Chinese regime, maintains that the measures would receive support from the majority of Chinese in the event that the authorities decide to crack down on Korean content. Four in five, it said, would favor a ban on Korean entertainment, based on a recent but unspecified survey.

Communist Party-controlled Global Times, meanwhile, blames the THAAD deployment for the storm clouds that threaten Korean pop culture in China. It reported that Korean actors have become the “scapegoats” in this affair.

Russia and North Korea have also complained about the program, the latter even firing two ballistic missiles on Aug. 3, one of which landed “perilously close” to Japan, according to CNN. Critics and the South Korean government said its likely a revenge to the deployment.  

On the other hand, South Korean Vice Minister of Trade, Industry and Energy Woo Tae-hee denied the recent incidents to be Beijing’s revenge against the THAAD system. “China has not taken any direct measure, nor have (we) suffered any damage from any actions,” Woo said during a National Assembly meeting, according to Korea Herald.

“Whenever difficulties and challenges arise in South Korea-China relations,” Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se told Korea Herald on Aug. 5, “we should not over-react.”

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