South Korean pop music is emerging as a surprise victim of the worsening geopolitical feud between Seoul and Beijing.
Since October, not one K-pop artist has been granted approval to perform in the world's No. 2 economy, according to reports in Korean and Chinese media over the past week. The Korea Times and Yonhap News suggested on Tuesday that the snub was a sign of intensified anti-Korea sentiment on the mainland.
China has been one of the top consumers of hallyu, or Korean pop culture, but a recent policy move by South Korean President Park Geun-hye looks set to change that.
In July, Seoul agreed to host a Terminal High Altitude Area Defense system (THAAD)—advanced American missile defense technology—to better defend itself against North Korea's constant military threats. Beijing has long voiced opposition to THAAD, saying its deployment on the Korean Peninsula threatened Chinese national security interests.
In retaliation to the July decision, China banned the airing of Korean television content, media widely reported in August. At the time, sources at TV stations in Guangdong told the South China Morning Post that new approvals for programs featuring Korean stars would not be granted in the near future.
Yonhap News reported on Tuesday that coverage of Korean celebrities and reviews of Korean films have virtually disappeared from mainland media, adding that a Chinese company was fined $14,500 for trying to push a K-pop performance without gaining government approval.
Beijing has yet to confirm the K-pop freeze however. At a press conference on Monday, Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Geng Shuang said he had not heard about any television restrictions regarding Korean pop stars and did not mention the apparent ban on performances.
"The Chinese side is always positive to people-to-people and cultural exchanges with the Republic of Korea," Geng said. "However, I believe you can all understand that such kind of exchanges should be based on public support. China's steadfast opposition to the deployment of THAAD is well known to all...Relevant parties must have taken note of that."
As Geng alluded, Chinese users on Weibo seemed largely supportive of the apparent ban.
"Well done, I'm supportive. No matter how much we like you, you will become our enemy once you stand in opposition to China. Sorry," FYQ posted.
A user called Joonyoung wrote, "Although I used to like Korean dramas and stars, I support this decision."
"We should ban Hong Kong and Taiwan stars as well," Gaga wrote.