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School of Diplomacy and International Relations

China Bans Boy Bands to Stop Missiles

Korean manBrandon Valeriano, Ph.D., a new professor in the School of Diplomacy and International Relations, and graduate student Khalifah Muhammad, also in the School of Diplomacy and International Relations worked together to analyze the choice of China to ban K-pop and other Korean exports in "When China Banned Korean Boy Bands" in the professional international affairs site The Diplomat. The article reviews when China opted for unorthodox targets to coerce the South Korean government to move away from the deployment of the THAAD missile system. The Chinese government restricted the domestic consumption of Korean media like K-Pop groups and Korean Dramas, why?

Missile defense platforms are becoming the system of the year after Israel and its allies virtually eliminated the nearly 400 projectiles launched by Iran in April of 2024. Muhammad and Valeriano note the missile defense system that led to a response from China:

After the 2016 missile tests from North Korea highlighting increasing range and capability of their ballistic missile system, the South Korean government took steps to protect themselves from any potential attacks from their northern neighbors. This led to the agreement and eventual deployment of the U.S. THAAD (Terminal High Altitude Area Defense) system in late 2017 just under 150 miles south of the capital city, Seoul.

THAAD’s mobility and ability to increase its radar to 2,000 km gives South Korea a superior and unparalleled asset to protect their territory. With the U.S. giving South Korea the THAAD capability, China’s first- and second-strike options are limited, if not eliminated. This curbs China’s ability to threaten and coerce its regional rival.

They continue, recognizing the unique approach that China felt would lead Korea to give up the deployment of THAAD:

An orthodox threat sometimes requires an unorthodox response…For China, this meant taking matters into their own hands by banning performances of K-pop artists in the country as well as barring the showing of any Korean television content without proper prior approval. China also restricted imports from large Korean cosmetic companies and video game providers. This in turn would not only hurt South Korean exports but also cause the domestic Chinese opinions of Korean products and celebrities to decrease dramatically.

Muhammad and Valeriano conclude by pointing out the importance of recognizing soft power as a serious instrument of state power:

Chinese politicians understand that soft power could be an effective route toward coercion. The problem is that they do not have current exportable domestic entertainment like K-pop to proliferate globally...We can debate endlessly the capabilities of new missile defense systems and hypersonic launch options to defeat these advances, or we can focus on the true power in this world: boys who wear makeup. While flippant, such statements represent the true reality of international politics.

Finally, Korea did not give up on THAAD and more importantly, K-pop went global with groups like BTS, Twice, Blackpink, and recently, NewJeans gaining global fame after China cut off its domestic markets. Sometimes the punishment backfires, drastically.

Categories: Nation and World

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