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Mar. 10, 2015 - Updated 04:16 UTC

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Pop Powerhouse Faces Problems

Mitsuko Nishikawa

Oct. 6, 2016

South Korea is an entertainment powerhouse, but increasingly tense relations with North Korea are getting in the way of efforts to promote K-pop.

Tens of thousands of fans of the genre gathered at the Busan One Asia Festival in the south of the country. The three-week event is the first time in Busan there's been a K-pop festival on such a large scale.

The concept of the festival is "uniting the people of Asia through South Korea's pop culture." Organizers want to promote a wide range of entertainment -- not just music.

Top K-pop artists performed their latest hit songs during Saturday's opening ceremony at the city's largest stadium and the mayor welcomed fans from around the world. Mannequins wearing stage outfits of K-pop stars were on display at the venue, and fans were excited to see clothes worn by their idols.

"K-Pop music is very captivating," said one visitor from Singapore.

Fans love K-pop's visual style and the festival gives them a chance to get Korean beauty and fashion tips firsthand.

In one corner of the festival, it's makeup that's the focus on stage. Two well-known makeup artists are showing off their skills using members of the audience as models. The makeup pros show how to get the K-pop look. All sorts of beauty products are on sale and exhibitors say visitors want to know which ones Korean stars actually use.

The event isn't just a feast for the eyes -- gourmet Korean food is also an attraction. Trendy restaurants from all over the country have set up stalls there.

Chefs are becoming pop celebrities, including one woman who is famous for creating dishes that combine Korean and Western cuisine. She shares original recipes that people can easily cook for themselves.

Event organizers say that about 12,000 foreign fans are attending the festival, and nearly half of them are from China. Organizers invited a Chinese troupe to perform and printed festival brochures in Chinese.

The reason for these efforts is that there are already signs that strained relations with Beijing could hurt business. Increasing provocations by North Korea are at the root of the problem.


Politics Hurts Business
Kim Chan-ju

South Koreans working in the tourism and leisure industries are concerned that the flow of Chinese visitors to the country may be slowing. That's because politics could get in the way of improving grassroots ties between the 2 countries.

Seoul and Washington recently decided to deploy an advanced anti-missile defense system in South Korea by next year.

It's called the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense, or THAAD. The system is designed to make the South better able to defend itself against unpredictable military action by North Korea.

Beijing has reacted harshly to the plan because it fears the system's radar could be used to spy on its military.

"K-pop is popular in China, but Korean stars are facing difficulties appearing in Chinese media. There are concerns it's due to South Korea’s decision to deploy THAAD," a KBS News anchor recently reported.

A newspaper affiliated with the Chinese Communist Party warned that damage to the K-pop industry is inevitable if Seoul doesn't change its decision to deploy the THAAD system.

The political spat has dealt a severe blow to South Korea's entertainment industry. The stock prices of 2 major companies plunged after the missile shield announcement and they haven't recovered.

The country’s cosmetics industry is also feeling the pinch. One company in 2014 launched a brand containing natural ingredients that became a hit with Chinese customers. That helped sales of such products reach 4 million dollars last year in South Korea. But they've fallen about 30 percent since the decision to deploy the missile system was announced in July.

"We plan to expand distribution to Southeast Asian countries like the Philippines, Indonesia and Vietnam instead," says Kim Min-jae, a manager at cosmetics firm Huetique.

People in various industries are working hard so that Chinese tourists keep coming to South Korea. The festival is one way they're trying to do that, and people in Busan are doing their best to make sure politics doesn`t affect business.


A Difficult Balancing Act

Kim Yong-chul, a security expert in Busan, spoke to NHK World about the impact deployment of the THAAD system could have on the South Korean economy and cultural exchanges.

Yong-chul: Chinese authorities are treating security and defense issues, and culture and the economy all together. So there's growing concern in South Korea that China might set a limit on imports of K-pop, or impose economic sanctions.

But sudden control of such cultural exchanges would also hurt the reputation of Chinese authorities. Distrust and frustration would grow among Chinese citizens who`ve been enjoying such exchanges.

South Korea and China have to make efforts to understand each other's position to get past the THAAD issue. Full-fledged cooperation between the 2 countries could promote the cultural industry and economy, and finally solve the issue.


Mitsuko Nishikawa joins anchors Aki Shibuya and Sho Beppu in the studio from Busan.

Shibuya: How are South Korean leaders handling this situation?

Nishikawa: In a nutshell, they haven't been able to do anything. It's obvious that China is stepping up its propaganda activities to put pressure on South Korea. But Beijing hasn't taken clear diplomatic countermeasures against the deployment of THAAD. That means South Korean leaders haven't yet been able to do anything concrete to settle the issue.

Business people are also frustrated. Some are trying to lessen their dependence on Chinese customers in order to avoid a worst-case scenario. Experts say political tensions between Seoul and Beijing could seriously hurt the South Korean economy. South Korea needs to work out a strategy to boost its business with China.