BTS hit song brings hope of further thaw in China-South Korea relations

Members of K-pop boy band BTS pose for photographs during a news conference promoting their new album "BE(Deluxe Edition)" in Seoul on Nov 20, 2020. (Reuters photo)

Four years after South Korea and China had a falling out over the former's stationing of United States missiles ostensibly directed at deterring a North Korean attack, which led to a ban on Korean entertainment, K-pop supergroup BTS' newest hit song, Dynamite, was played on Beijing radio for the first time this week.

According to South Korean news reports, Metro Radio played the English-language song on Monday. It's the first time since the ban that a BTS track has been played by the station, which broadcasts international music.

This is latest example of South Korean entertainment making roads in China since the THAAD missile controversy in 2016. Political and cultural developments in recent months point to a normalising of cultural exports, even if Chinese and Korean internet users have butted heads over cultural matters. 

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi visited South Korea last month, and expressed a need for stronger ties between the two countries.

Areum Jeong, assistant professor at the Sichuan University-Pittsburgh Institute, says the popularity of Hallyu, or Korean wave, cultural content in Chengdu, the city in southwest China where she is based, has continued undimmed despite the frosty relations between the Chinese and South Korean governments.

Stores regularly run advertisements featuring K-pop stars, she says, and many Chinese students keep up with Korean dramas and variety shows.

"Dynamite playing on the radio does make it seem somewhat hopeful, but whether it can be viewed as an optimistic sign … it is probably too soon to tell," Jeong tells the South China Morning Post.

She sees the playing of Dynamite, the partly Chinese state-owned tech company iFlyTek expressing interest in working with South Korean music management agency SM Entertainment's founder Lee Soo-man, and the Korean game Summoners Wars recently being licensed in China, as positive signs. Still, Jeong expresses caution.

"Of course if the ban is lessened, it could become a boon for Korean entertainment and tourism," she says. "At the same time, the ban fours years ago could also be seen as a turning point for Korean content [creators] to [become] more versatile in exporting [their] culture globally, and not becoming dependent on or heavily influenced by a few nations."

Members of K-pop boy band BTS pose for photographs during a news conference promoting their new album "BE(Deluxe Edition)" in Seoul on Nov 20, 2020. (Reuters photo)