Defending Democracy: Urgent Call to Support Shen Yun in South Korea

Defending Democracy: Urgent Call to Support Shen Yun in South Korea
Shen Yun Performing Arts World Company’s curtain call at the Gumi Arts Center–Grand Hall in Gumi, South Korea, on Feb. 8, 2023. (Kim Guk-hwan/The Epoch Times)
Michelle Steel

Leaders from across Asia gathered in San Francisco for the APEC Economic Leaders’ Week from Nov. 11 to 17, with South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol among them. Much of the summit’s attention focused on China’s relations with the United States, but our relationship with our allies, including Mr. Yoon, is arguably even more important.

South Korea has faced severe pressure from the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) on several fronts, and it’s the duty of the United States to help our allies stand strong against CCP leader Xi Jinping at this critical juncture. One such issue facing Mr. Yoon is a choice between allowing the CCP to dictate Korea’s artistic scene versus upholding the country’s hard-won values of free expression and democracy.

Under CCP pressure and economic coercion, South Korea has largely blocked the U.S.-based company Shen Yun Performing Arts from performing in South Korea. The company is a nonprofit organization founded in New York in 2006 with the mission of reviving the essence of 5,000 years of traditional Chinese culture. Its performance is rooted in spirituality and influenced by ancient Buddhist and Taoist values. Shen Yun has graced many top venues, such as the Lincoln Center in New York, the Kennedy Center in Washington, and Le Palais de Congrès de Paris.

I have had the pleasure of attending one of their shows in California and found the classical Chinese culture and virtues represented throughout the show inspiring. Yet in South Korea, after having performed for many years and selling out shows at the National Theater of Korea last year, it has come to my attention that the company is having difficulty securing venues for 2024.

Since as early as 2006, Chinese diplomats have tried to use economic leverage—including threats of visa denials, reduced Chinese university students, or restrictions on the sale of Korean dramas in China—to pressure local officials and theaters in South Korea to reject or cancel contracts with Shen Yun. In many instances, those threats failed, and Shen Yun has performed more than 150 shows across several South Korean cities since 2007, but in several cases, most notably in 2016, the pressure succeeded, and a run of shows was canceled two days before scheduled to start.

Xi’s regime appears to be redoubling its pressure at a time when the Yoon administration is working to strengthen its ties with the United States and democratic allies in Asia while reassuring Beijing of its desire for “cooperation.” Unfortunately, since September 2022, 13 applications for Shen Yun performances in South Korea have been rejected. For the first time since Shen Yun’s establishment, the company is facing the reality of hardly performing in South Korea at all.

Bowing to the will of the CCP sets a worrisome precedent for any future policymaking at a time when South Korea must stand strong. Xi’s regime has only become more aggressive as its ambition to control the region grows. It’s the duty of democratic governments to defend freedom in the face of oppression. That’s why I sent a letter to Mr. Yoon to do just that and to ensure that the citizens of South Korea have the opportunity to see an inspiring and beautiful performance.

The CCP should never have a say in the decisions of any nation, much less a free and democratic nation. Shen Yun represents some of the values that the CCP fears the most—freedom of religion and freedom of expression. We must stand strong together against any attempt to undermine democracy, including the suppression of Shen Yun.

Views expressed in this article are opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.
Congresswoman Michelle Steel is serving her second term in the House of Representatives, where she serves the people of California’s 45th District. Born in South Korea and raised in Japan, Michelle immigrated to the United States to build her own American Dream. She is one of the first Korean American women to ever serve in Congress.
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