As one of South Korea’s biggest exports, the Kpop industry is both economically valuable and majorly influential. Modern South Korean society has been shaped considerably under its weight and so have South Korea’s domestic and foreign affairs. The platform idols are given elevates their status, amplifies their voices, making them heard by millions of people across the globe almost instantly. The question is, should they use their voices to air their political opinions? Or do they sacrifice their freedom of speech to preserve political diplomacy?
Idols of Chinese origin have been put in a precarious position due to the recent protests in Hong Kong. The 2019 Hong-Kong extradition bill, underlined by years of growing anti-Chinese sentiment, sparked waves of backlash both domestically and internationally. The ‘one-China’ ideology – that Hong Kong, Taiwan and Macau are all part of mainland China – is hotly contested due to previous rulings allowing these territories independent autonomy from China’s communist regime. Idols from these areas are under pressure by both Korean and Chinese governments to address the situation.
A slew of Chinese idols took to the Chinese social media site Weibo to voice their support for mainland China. This was met with fierce criticism from fans and pro-democracy groups who argue that the Chinese are encroaching on Hong-Kongers’ freedoms. Members of popular groups – Seventeen’s Minghao and Jun, (G)-idle’s Yuqi and former EXO member Lay – uploaded messages denouncing Hong-Kong’s independence, branding themselves ‘guardians of the Chinese flag.’
The backlash reflected negatively on the idols themselves and shook relations between South Korea, Taiwan, Hong-Kong and China – was it worth it to speak out considering the repercussions? The posts cost these idols and their groups support in the affected territories, tarnished their reputations and created a sense of distrust between fans and idols. Now that they have thrown their support behind an undemocratic government it puts South Korea in an awkward position on the international stage.
Some argue that the posts themselves are suspicious; several idols posted almost identical messages and pictures, on the same day around the same time. Hong-Konger idol GOT7’s Jackson and Taiwanese star Lai Kuan Lin of Wanna One also weighed in, adding fuel to the fire that this support was coerced and not of their own volition. After all, would they really choose to speak out against their homelands? Rumours are swirling that idols of Chinese descent have potentially been blackmailed into showing public support for the Chinese government, in fear of physical harm to themselves or their families – if true, this is a gross violation of their free speech and casts serious doubt on the democracy South Korea has strived to maintain over the years.
Of course it is important for younger generations to form their own informed political opinions, and idols can be instrumental to helping them achieve that. With that being said however, it is also dangerously irresponsible for idols to openly support police brutality and a regime that seeks to deprive thousands of their liberties and rights. Forced or not, at the time of writing these posts are still accessible; impressionable young people could blindly align their views with their favourite stars in a misguided act of loyalty.
In a more general sense, idols needs to exercise caution when discussing political matters. Only after careful consideration concerning any potential ramifications should they speak publicly about such sensitive issues. But most importantly, their views must be their own, free from external pressures – otherwise, they become nothing more than mouthpieces for others’ agendas.
Opinions expressed are solely the writer’s own and may not represent the views or opinions of United Kpop Ltd.