The “Answer” is you: China and Korea

President Moon ring the celebratory gong during the Korea-China Economic and Trade Partnership Forum talks. I Courtesy of the Korea Herald (Yonhap)

In recent years, China, South Korea, and Japan have made a motion to be friendlier towards one another. China and South Korea have made efforts to have relations that are more open. This fostered cultural exchanges between the three countries. However, a couple years ago, tensions between North and South Korea were revived with the installation by the United States of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense system (THAAD). The  threat THAAD presents also cooled relations with China. The THAAD system lead China to restrict access to Hallyu also known as Korean Wave Music.

President Moon Jae-in with EXO-CBX during theKorea- China Economic and Trade Partnership Forum | Courtesy of NiuNews

“Korean Wave” is the flow of South Korean entertainment that started in the early 1990s and created a music genre specific to South Korea. “Kpop” (Korean Pop) was pioneered by artists such as BoA (Korean female singer), H.O.T (early Korean male group), and DBSK also known as TVXQ (another Korean male group). Since 2015, China and Korea have had a steady exchange of culture and relations through entertainment. EXO’s group member, Lay became a youth Ambassador for China while promoting with his Korean music group, EXO.1 His promotions which include album releases, commercials, and movies are done under his individual name in China and through EXO in Korea. The work of Zhang Yixing and EXO serve as a testimony of the impact the flow of cultural icons and they work between the two countries. The Korean Wave includes both art and entertainment. Its popularity fosters cultural exchanges between the citizens of China and South Korea. The success of groups such as EXO, Big Bang, and GOT7 helped to open dialogue.

President of China Xi JinPing with President Moon Jae-in, South Korea at Welcoming Ceremony in Beijing | Courtesy of New York Times Photo by Nicolas Asfouri

Although citizen opinion is positive, China had become determined to change this. The implementation of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system in South Korea lead China to react negatively. THAAD is a defense system against medium and intermediate range ballistic missiles. Issuing of the THAAD system worries China because it downgrades Chinese security capabilities.2 The reason is quite simple: the THAAD system has a radar build in that enables it to seek out medium and intermediate range missiles in flight and this radar can also have a second function to help discover missile locations on the ground in China which gives the United States a strategic advantage  in case of war. This removes China’s ability to keep their missile locations hidden putting them at a major disadvantage. This disadvantage is only amplified by the close proximity of these countries. China and South Korea sandwich North Korea and the Yellow Sea. This proximity is exactly what made the THAAD system necessary, so that it can block missiles that pass over the Yellow Sea or ones North Korea.3 Until then, South Korea and China had some interactions, but North Korean aggression has prompted South Korea to utilize the THAAD system through their American ally.4 The South Korean government in conjunction with the United States began construction in the area surrounding Seongju and completed the work in September of 2017. China has become hostile towards the South Korean government because of many Chinese officials viewing THAAD’s deployment as a sort of betrayal.5 This became evident when the Chinese government did not send high-ranking officials to attend the South Korean Embassy’s National Day reception in 2016. Another example came when the People’s Republic of China suspended high-level talks between the two countries and postponed the visit from the South Korea’s defense minister.6 Asian culture requires a very high level of respect which is usually displayed during important events such as these. However, the actions of China towards South Korea have shown increasing tension between the two.7 This has had a negative impact on diplomatic relations and took a toll on cultural exchanges when China banned Korean entertainment. Korean TV shows that were aired in China were abruptly stopped, faces of Korean actors were blurred out, and Korean names were replaced with Chinese ones during the ending credits. Many Kpop bands had to halt events such as concerts and tours, while Korean film and TV copyright sales decreased in China.8 These were quite drastic censorship measures aimed at erasing all Korean presence in China.

President Moon Jae-in of South Korea | Courtesy of NPR Chung Sung-Jung/Getty Images

Meanwhile in South Korea, the President, Moon Jae-in had used Kpop’s regional popularity to foster diplomacy. He gifted an autographed EXO album and video message featuring Minho of SHINee to the first daughter of Indonesia during her wedding. This gift helped Indonesian relations with South Korea prosper.  This form of diplomacy had also been applied to their Chinese relations. One group with a huge influence in China is EXO. As mentioned before, one member of the popular South Korean boy band, EXO is Chinese and China named him as Youth Ambassador. Zhang Yixing (Lay) is currently promoting in China while proudly representing the Korean group. EXO also consists of a sub unit called EXO-CBX which is comprised of members Chen (JongDae), Baekhyun, and Xiumin (MinSeok). This unit alongside Korean actress Song Hye Kyo (Descendants of the Sun) were used in President Moon Jae-in’s plan involving China.9 The Korea- China Economic and Trade Partnership Forum, President Moon Jae-in deployed the use of Korean idols to warm tensions between the two countries. Sub-unit CBX and Song Hye Kyo made guest appearances during this meeting and used their charm to win the hearts of important Chinese diplomats, thus allowing for a more neutral surrounding while dealing with important trade issues. Since, China and Korea had made steady efforts to increase their future relations in a positive manner. All of that was abruptly stopped by the installation of THAAD!

“We are one!” is the slogan of EXO which perfectly encompasses the model for South Korean-Chinese aspirations. Both countries want to move towards relations that are open and have a policy centered on their common ground. The Hallyu Wave provides this very needed common interest. Although  THAAD put a stain on Korea and China relations, the efforts of President Moon Jae-in and the use of media outlets for music and entertainment can foster a comfortable diplomatic setting post-THAAD. With increasingly steady relations between the two, the past may become a “Walk on Memories”.10

In addition to improving Chinese relations, South Korea recently revealed the use of Kpop idols such as Red Velvet, and popular vocalists such as Cho Yong- Pil, Lee Sun- Hee, in addition to rock singer Yoon Do- Hyun and Singer Baek Ji- Young helped warm relations with North Korea.11 Although unification is not currently on the horizon, a joint summit between North and South Korea is scheduled for the 27 of April of this year and a possible meeting of Kim Jong-Un and President Trump in May.  South Korean K-pop seems to be a “Transformer” [pun intended!] for positive relations for South Korea. 12

  1. EXO, The 2nd Album “EXODUS,’ 2015, MY ANSWER
  2. Swaine “Chinese views on South Korea’s deployment of THAAD,” China Leadership Monitor 52, no. 4 (2017).
  3. Daniel Gomà , “The Chinese-Korean Border Issue: An Analysis of a Contested Frontier,” Asian Survey 46, no 6 (2006): 867-80. doi:10.1525/as.2006.46.6.867.
  4. Zhu Feng, “Shifting Tides: China and North Korea,” in The Architecture of Security in the Asia-Pacific, edited by HUISKEN RON, 45-58. ANU Press, 2009. http://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt24h898.10.
  5. Micheal Swaine, “Chinese views on South Korea’s deployment of THAAD,” China Leadership Monitor 52, no. 4 (2017).
  6. Micheal Swaine, “Chinese views on South Korea’s deployment of THAAD,” China Leadership Monitor 52, no. 4 (2017).
  7. Jae- Ho Chung, “China’s “Soft” Clash with South Korea: The History War and Beyond,” Asian Survey 49, no. 3 (2009): 468-83. doi:10.1525/as.2009.49.3.468.
  8. Sonia Kil, “China’s Blockade of Cultural Korea Marks Troublesome Anniversary,” Variety, 24 Aug 2017, Accessed 19 Feb 2018, http://variety.com/2017/film/asia/china-ban-on-korea-culture-anniversary-1202537823/.
  9. Hong Dam- Young, Song Hye-kyo, EXO-CBX meet President Moon Jae-In in Beijing,” The Korean Herald. 14 Dec 2017, Accessed 30 Jan 2018, http://www.koreaherald.com/view.php?ud=20171214000801.
  10. EXO, The War – The 4th Album, 2017, Walk on Memories.
  11. Christine Kim, Heekyong Yang, “North Korea’s Kim Jong Un, Wife, Watch South Korean K-Pop stars perform in Pyongyang,” Reuters, 2 April 2018, Accessed 3 April 2018.
  12. EXO, The 2nd Album ‘EXODUS,’ 2015, TRANSFORMER.
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61 Comments

  • I found how it was really unique to see how K-Pop played a roll in politics, and how it strengthened relations between India and S. Korea, as well as China. When reading the article, I didn’t realize why it was a big deal until the author explained that the radar could be used to see where the missile systems were. But I am glad to hear that both countries are working to be closer even after post THAAD.

  • As someone who has friends who ADORE the music taste of Kpop it’s a little funny to me now that I know that it was used in a diplomatic situation and actually helped create peace between the two asian countries. And as someone who’s an IGS major I never actually thought that music could be used as something to help solve diplomatic situations between countries, so music is a lot more influential than I had originally thought.

  • It’ so interesting to read about the different political cultures that are around the world taking place right now. You did a great job not only explaining why tensions got heated between South Korea and China because of THAAD but you also showed what happened before the missile system was used. I can understand why China would see THAAD as a threat but I don’t think they should’ve started edging South Korea away from them, especially since they are so close together! But I can also see why South Korea wished to ask the United States for THAAD because they were under threat from North Korea. I guess in this topic I am torn on how I view the situation because both sides have equal reasons for their actions.

  • I don’t particularly listen to Kpop, but I love the author’s rationale behind the reason of her selecting this particular story. Music is such an amazing because topic because music is so uniting. If theres one thing that bring people together from all different backgrounds it’s music. The author was showing the efforts made to ease the very deep tension between these two countries using one of the most simple, yet incredible things we have in this world. I commend the author for writing this article on the effort that are being made to instill harmony in this world.

  • This is a very interesting article. I had no idea about how K-Pop was used in diplomatic relations. I also had no idea about these events before reading this article, so it was fun to read about. I still find it strange how all of these things were connected, but it seemed liked it worked out in the end. The article does a great job of putting all of the information together and still make it fun to read.

  • I never imagined that Kpop and its artist would play such an important role between two very powerful countries and the world. I also found the Chinese extreme censoring ridiculous. Blurring faces and changing names, how is that going to help the relationship between the two countries, it all just seemed very petty.
    But I am glad to hear that both countries are working to be closer even after post THAAD.

  • The author of the article did a great job in providing excellent background information on who the popular bands were, and how they related to China and South Korea. It was really unique to see how K-Pop played a roll in politics, and how it strengthened relations between India and S. Korea, as well as China. This article reminded me of how North Korea threatened South Korea with war after South Korea continuously blasted the border between the nations with K-Pop music. Awesome article, it provided great insight!
    One thing I was confused about was that the author mentioned Japan in the introduction of the article and how the relations between China, South Korea, and Japan were strengthening, but there wasn’t a mention of Japan again in the rest of the article. Overall, great job.

  • I never thought that the implementation of a missile defense system could cause such controversy. Even when reading the article, I didn’t realize why it was a big deal until the author explained that the radar could be used to see where the missile systems were. I like that the author explained why the missile defense system was a threat to China, it made it clear how both countries felt.

  • I found this article interesting because of how it details the diplomacy between South Korea and China. I never knew that K-pop music played a role in diplomacy between the two countries. I did get why China would be disappointed with the THAAD missile system, but they should not be disappointed. South Korea needed the system, since North Korea was testing their nuclear missiles. Overall, this article was good, well-written, and informative.

  • I am not very familiar with Asian cultures and I know nothing about Kpop. It is interesting to see how they are using music as a way to create diplomatic ties. This article is really well written and informative and I really enjoyed reading and learning more about how Kpop is helping south Korea build connections. It is interesting to see how much music can have an effect on world politics.

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