Their open support for the Chinese government over the controversy has troubled their agencies which are wary of possible fallout from fans. Anti-China sentiment is in full swing in Korea these days as seen in the recently scrapped SBS TV drama, "Joseon Exorcist," over distorting history and belittling Korean culture by depicting distinctly Chinese foods and fashion.
Cotton produced in the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region has, in recent years, come under fire over allegations that it is using ethnic Uighur Muslim minorities as forced labor. The Chinese government has flatly denied those accusations. Growing concerns over such acts of human rights violations have prompted global fashion giants such as H&M, Adidas, Nike and Burberry to make pledges to exclude Xinjiang cotton from their supply chains.
Chinese K-pop stars, including EXO's Lay, f(x)'s Victoria, Everglow's Yiren as well as three members of Cosmic Girls ― Mei Qi, Xuan Yi and Cheng Xiao ― all took part in a People's Daily campaign on their Weibo accounts, March 25, with the hashtag "I Support Xinjiang Cotton."
Some of these celebrities have also joined China's state-led boycott against Western brands that vowed to cut ties with the Xinjiang region. GOT7's Hong Kong-born Jackson issued a statement announcing his canceled partnership with Adidas, while Victoria terminated her contracts with H&M, stating, "The country's national interests come before everything else. We firmly reject all acts of stigmatization against China."
This isn't the first time that Chinese K-pop stars have been vocal advocates for the Chinese government. In 2019, during a series of pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong, Lay, Victoria and Jackson, among others, voiced their support for the government's suppression with the phrases, "Hong Kong is part of China forever" and "What a shame for Hong Kong." In 2016, a number of these celebrities openly protested The Hague's international court ruling against China's claims of historic rights in the South China Sea.
Lee Gyu-tag, assistant professor of cultural studies at George Mason University Korea, said the motives may vary behind the increasingly active participation by Chinese K-pop stars in their government's controversial actions, compared to those of other nationalities.
"First of all, after Xi Jinping came to power, China's nationalistic sentiment has grown much stronger. K-pop stars originally from China will not likely be entirely free from such a political atmosphere."
He said their "patriotic" actions may reflect pressure they are facing from their home fans as well.
"It is often the case that these Chinese stars upload exactly the same type of post within the same time frame. Even if the members themselves do not hold nationalistic sentiments, they may feel pressure from local fans or experience fears of being at a disadvantage by not making such posts," he said.
The pro-China campaigns by some K-pop idols could also be related to their uncertain futures after their teams are disbanded. In many cases, K-pop bands are active for several years. Once they are forgotten, their groups are disbanded and the members end up having to choose whether they will keep pursing their singing careers or seek transitions into other fields, such as acting.
Therefore, joining the pro-China campaign may help their post-K-pop careers in their homeland.
But Lee cautioned that since K-pop is no longer limited to the East Asian region, but is now a global cultural force, Chinese members' public remarks on the Xinjiang cotton issue, which are seen as blatant support for human rights violations, can antagonize the international fan community outside China.
"As K-pop becomes multinational, embracing members of many different nationalities ― China, Japan, Thailand, U.S. and Canada ― a similar type of conflict is expected to happen again in the future. But as long as K-pop remains a part of the international music industry, an atmosphere should be encouraged where each member can look at an issue from a wider, global perspective rather than simply prioritizing their own national interests."
source: The Korea Times