BTS in trouble in China over Korean War comments

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Members of BTS pose, September 2020Image source, EPA
Image caption,
RM (2nd from right) is the band's leader

South Korean K-pop group BTS is facing a backlash in China over comments a member made about the Korean War.

In a speech, the band's leader, known as RM, mentioned South Korea's shared "history of pain" with the US over the 1950-53 conflict, in which the two countries fought together.

But his remarks have angered Chinese social media users, as Beijing backed the North in the war.

The controversy also appears to have affected commercial deals.

Adverts featuring BTS from companies including Samsung, sports brand Fila and car manufacturer Hyundai disappeared from a number of Chinese websites or social media platforms, although it is unclear who removed them.

K-pop has a large following in China and BTS - one of the most successful groups - are no different, with at least five million fans on China's popular social media platform Weibo.

RM's comments came as BTS received an award celebrating relations between the US and South Korea.

"We will always remember the history of pain that our two nations shared together and the sacrifices of countless men and women," he said.

But his words were met with an angry response by some social media users in China, who noted the losses their country also suffered in the war.

"They [BTS] should not make any money from China," one user commented on Weibo, reported Reuters news agency. "If you want to make money from Chinese fans you have to consider Chinese feelings."

According to the Global Times, a state-run newspaper with a nationalistic perspective, "Chinese netizens said the band's totally one-sided attitude to the Korean War hurts their feelings and negates history", adding that the comments were designed to "play up" to US audiences.

Around 200,000 South Korean soldiers and 36,000 American soldiers died during the Korean War, as well as millions of civilians. Chinese state media say 180,000 soldiers from China also lost their lives.

It was difficult to gauge the scale of the backlash to RM's comments among BTS's Chinese fan base. Some were calling on each other to stay low-key and quiet on Weibo posts. And a number of people on Twitter defended the group, noting that RM's speech did not mention China directly.

The seven-member BTS is popular around the world and have broken a number of records. Earlier this year, their single Dynamite became the most viewed YouTube video in 24 hours, with 101.1 million views in a day.

The controversy comes days before Big Hit Entertainment, the agency that manages BTS, is set to go public in Seoul in an initial public offering expected to value the company at up to $4bn (£3bn).