Surekha Ragavan
Oct 14, 2020

BTS faces backlash in China following Korean war tribute

Brands including Hyundai and Samsung have begun to remove mentions of the boyband on their Chinese websites.

BTS (Getty Images)
BTS (Getty Images)

BTS—arguably the biggest boyband in the world—faces an onslaught of criticism on Chinese social media and press after the band leader recognised the shared suffering of Americans and Koreans during a recent ceremony commemorating the Korean War.

The band leader— aka RM—appeared to have riled up fans in China during a speech when the band received an award from US-based organisation, Korea Society, for the band's contribution to South Korea-US relations. RM’s comments about a “history of pain” shared between South Korea and the US was perceived as anti-China, and in contradiction of forces from North Korea and China in the war.

Following the episode, brands swiftly took action. Samsung—which carries a BTS edition smartphone—removed mention of the band from its Chinese website. SCMP reported that posts featuring the BTS smartphone and earphones also disappeared from Tmall and Chinese state-owned daily Global Times reported that the items were out of stock.

Korean carmaker Hyundai was reported to have removed ads and references to BTS from its Chinese social-media accounts. However, a music video that the band created for Hyundai still appears on the Chinese website at time of publish.

Campaign Asia-Pacific has reached out to Samsung and Hyundai, but did not immediately hear back.

On Weibo, Chinese users were seen (screenshots below) to post negative sentiment including “I regret that I have followed BTS for some time” and “I can’t believe [BTS] would do this, I won’t pay anything for them ever again”.

One BTS fan told Global Times: "There were thousands of Chinese soldiers who sacrificed their lives in the war. You are South Korean people and you can say that, but I am Chinese so I decided to be angry and quit the boy band's fan club to express my clear attitude.” The paper added that BTS’ comments reflected a “one-sided attitude”.

Activist Joshua Wong, who has been at the forefront of pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong, tweeted: “Nothing could be more ridiculous when the award is given to those promoting US-Korea relations, it's natural to only mention the two nations. In fact, the speech didn't even mention #China, nor anything against it, but nationalist trolls have already treated it as an insult.”

During a press briefing, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian, said: “I’ve noticed related reports, and also the reaction of Chinese netizens. We should learn from history and look toward the future by cherishing peace and advancing our friendship.”

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