ⓕ font-size

  • -2
  • -1
  • 0
  • +1
  • +2

China's hallyu restrictions likely to continue unless Seoul-Beijing ties improve

  • Facebook share button
  • Twitter share button
  • Kakao share button
  • Mail share button
  • Link share button
Jung Yong-hwa, a member of K-pop boy group CNBLUE / Courtesy of FNC Entertainment
Jung Yong-hwa, a member of K-pop boy group CNBLUE / Courtesy of FNC Entertainment

China's ban on Korean cultural content continues

By Dong Sun-hwa

China has long been a lucrative yet unforeseeable market for the K-pop industry. It has a vast population of 1.4 billion, but is largely at the mercy of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) ― the sole ruling party of the country ― that applies cultural or economic policies at its discretion depending on political circumstances.

Such a phenomenon was most visible when Beijing launched an unofficial boycott on Korean cultural content following the deployment of a U.S. Terminal High Altitude Area of Defense (THAAD) missile defense battery system on Korean soil in 2017. Since then, China, which considered the installation as a threat to its national security, banned performances by K-pop stars and the airing of K-dramas and films on its land. Korean celebrities have not been able to appear on Chinese shows as well. A few years earlier, K-pop bigwigs like EXO and dramas like "My Love from the Star" (2013) swept the country off its feet, but this has become a thing of the past.

Beijing sometimes eased the controls, raising hopes among cultural industry insiders that the restrictive policies might soon be lifted. Most recently, news that Jung Yong-hwa of K-pop boy group CNBLUE visited China to film a Chinese variety show and that singer HyunA would perform at a music festival in Wuhan, the capital of Hubei Province during June 17-18, were deemed positive nods signaling the resurgence of "hallyu" (Korean Wave) there. Only a few days later, however, it was revealed that Jung's appearance was called off. It also remains to be seen whether HyunA will head for Wuhan as planned, as she reportedly has not received permission from Chinese authorities.

K-pop diva HyunA / Courtesy of P NATION
K-pop diva HyunA / Courtesy of P NATION
Experts say the restrictions will not be completely removed unless Seoul-Beijing ties recover.

"Since 2017, I have consistently insisted that China does not consider eliminating its ban on hallyu," Choo Jae-woo, a professor of Chinese studies at Kyunghee University, told The Korea Times. "Chinese Ambassador to South Korea Xing Haiming has been maintaining that there are no such restrictions, but it does not seem true. Not only K-dramas, but also the programs of KBS World ― an international broadcasting service provided by public broadcaster KBS ― and Arirang TV ― an English-language government-affiliated network ― are unavailable in China. Korean celebrities still cannot be featured in Chinese advertisements either."

Choo added, "The ban can only be alleviated if Korea and China mend their political ties through top-level talks. At the moment, however, the Korean government is working on bolstering its military relations with the U.S. and Japan despite China's discontent. So the issue surrounding hallyu will not be easily resolved."

Lee Wook-yon, a professor of Chinese culture at Sogang University, echoed this sentiment.

"Seoul-Beijing relations are frosty," Lee commented. "China recently offered a conciliatory gesture, as evidenced by President Xi Jinping's visit to a production plant of Korean display maker LG Display in Guangzhou, southern China, in April. It also allowed a number of Korean games to be sold in the country while easing some restrictions on Korean content. But the situation has taken a negative turn following President Yoon Suk Yeol's visit to the U.S., his interview with Reuters and the G7 summit in Japan's Hiroshima."

Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol / Yonhap
Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol / Yonhap

Yoon's latest political moves have prompted many to believe that his diplomatic focus is on the U.S. and Japan, and that he is siding with the two countries to contain China. The remark he made about tensions over Taiwan ― which China claims as its own under the "One China" policy ― in an interview with Reuters on April 19 particularly ruffled the feathers of Beijing ― Seoul's biggest trade partner. Yoon said tensions have occurred because of "attempts to change the status quo by force," adding that it is not "simply an issue between China and Taiwan."

"I want to stress that the current difficulties and challenges in the China-South relations are not caused by China," Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Mao Ning said in a press conference, May 31.

Professor Lee noted that the culture industry is not the only sector hit by Korea-China's thorny ties.

"National Assembly Speaker Kim Jin-pyo was set to visit China (upon its invitation), but it has been canceled just like many other political meetings that had been previously set up," he pointed out.

"This is not just a problem of the culture industry. Unless there are high-level political dialogues between the two countries to restore their bond, the hallyu issue is unlikely to get solved. Xi's visit to LG Display production plant was China's message showing its willingness for fence-mending. But (so far) the Korean government has been giving it an unwanted message that touches on some of the most sensitive issues. So now, the things will depend on whether Seoul has the determination to enhance the ties."

Professor Choo advised the Korean content industry to diversify its portfolio.

"It is true that we have lost the Chinese market, but we should not be swayed by every single event taking place there," he said. "Instead of just focusing on this market, we'd be better off seeking other ways to develop our content in other parts of the world to make hallyu more sustainable."

Dong Sun-hwa


Top 10 Stories

go top LETTER