Politician Calls For Further Consideration Of Contributions To The Arts In Criteria For Special Military Exemption

Assembly member Ha Tae Kyung has called for amendments to the criteria that determine who receives a special exemption from mandatory military service, stating a need for a broader and more modern consideration of contributions to the arts.

On July 25, the politician from the Bareunmirae Party spoke at a general meeting of the National Assembly Defense Committee. “There are requests for BTS to be exempt from mandatory military service, so I examined the list of international competitions that determines the exemptions and found that there is a problem in terms of fairness,” he stated.

“If you win first place in a classical music competition such as for the violin or the piano, you’re given an exemption from mandatory military service, but if you take first place on Billboard with popular music, you are not given an exemption,” Ha Tae Kyung explained.

“PSY set a new world record for YouTube views,” he said. “He has an incredibly large influence on people throughout the world.”

“However, the things that encourage our whole nation to dream and give inspiration to young people are not on [the military service exemption list],” he stated. “First place in a ballet competition is on [the list], but there’s no first place for b-boys on it. There are also none of the gaming competitions that are dominating in the world, and while the field of theatre is there, film is not.” He stated that reforms need to be made that are in accordance with the viewpoint of young people today.

Military Affairs Director Ki Chan Soo replied, “The military service exemption fields are selected through our discussions with the Minister of Culture, Sports, and Tourism.” He continued, “It is difficult if there is no national consensus. It will be reviewed so that it may be in accordance with reality.”

According to Korea’s military service law, those with special abilities in the fields of the arts or athletics train for four weeks in basic military training centers with other recruits, but spend 2 years and 10 months as public service workers in their respective fields, rather than as active soldiers. This is described as being for both cultural development and the enhancement of national prestige.

Among artists who have come in second place or higher in international competitions chosen by the Military Affairs Director, the two artists with the highest grades are included on the exemption list. For those with no international competition for their field, the artist with the highest grade among those who have received first place in domestic competitions receives the exemption.

Athletes who win bronze or higher in the Olympics or come in first in the Asian Games are also eligible for this special exemption.

While this might be a hot topic among K-pop fans, it is important to remember that the debate is not specifically about K-pop but about who and what qualifies for exemptions in all fields. Do the current conscription law and exemption criteria accurately represent the skills, aspirations, and needs of modern Korean society? Olympians receive exemptions because they compete in an internationally recognized system with over a hundred years of history. But is it possible to define achievements based on a platform that is barely decades old and has constantly changing algorithms like YouTube, for example? Is eSports not a sport?

With so many considerations, it’s unlikely that a change in the law would be instituted anytime soon, but for a law that affects half the population, open discussion about how to make it work better for the country could be worthwhile.

What are your thoughts?

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