“This year marks the 70th anniversary of the Korean War. We will always remember the history of pain that our two nations shared together, and the sacrifices of countless men and women,” said BTS in an acceptance speech of the Van Fleet Award on Wednesday. But Chinese online users dismissed it saying that using the expression “two nations” is nothing less than ignoring the noble sacrifice of Chinese soldiers during the Korean War and even boycotted BTS.
The Chinese government joined in the attack. “I am closely watching the news reports and responses of online users on BTS,” said a spokesperson of China’s foreign ministry. It is hard not to think this is typical manipulation of public opinion in which the government secretly controls online users and state-owned media. Korean businesses took down advertisements featuring BTS right after the boycott. They still remember how persistent and cruel the THAAD (Terminal High Altitude Area Defense) retaliation was three years ago.
The attack on BTS revealed Chinese online users’ human wave strategy in the digital era, which is nothing less than obstinate harassment. The Van Fleet Award by the Korean Society, an organization with a core mandate to strengthen the South Korea- U.S. relationship, was established in the memory of James A. Van Fleet, Commander of the U.S. Eighth Army at the height of the Korean War in 1951, and is awarded to Koreans or Americans in recognition of their outstanding contributions to the promotion of South Korea-U.S. relations. It would be rather strange if an award recipient does not mention the South Korea-U.S. relations.
China defines the Korean War as the “anti-American aid war” and has been turning a blind eye to the fact that North Korea invaded the South. The THAAD retaliation also targets only South Korea, which is more of a victim, rather than the North which is behind the actual nuclear threat. The attack on BTS is based on a thought that it is muscular enough to ignore the history. Its intention is clear. It wants South Korea to side with China in the conflict between the U.S. and China as South Korea would not be able to make head against China’s economic power. It is based on its arrogance that it can do anything and everything to stop the expansion of anti-China fronts of the U.S.
China’s hegemonistic behavior is going over the line after Xi Jinping took office in 2012 and started to gloss over the history. Now the country is not hesitant to threaten businesses and governments of other countries by mobilizing more than 900 million online users. The South Korean government should not be too lax by hanging onto the scheme “Security with the U.S. and economy with China” in this situation. To apply at least minimum international rules to the South Korea-China relations, the government needs to contemplate on policy towards China in which it can speak up for itself.