After Thaad, China takes aim against Hallyu

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After Thaad, China takes aim against Hallyu

Hallyu, or the Korean Wave, has enjoyed immense popularity in China, but recently increased diplomatic tensions between Seoul and Beijing may have repercussions in the entertainment industry as well.

Korean actress Yoo In-na of the 2014 hit drama “My Love from the Star” filmed a 28-episode series in China, backed by Korean producers, that was set to air next month on China’s Hunan Television, which has the country’s second-highest viewership.

But out of the blue, Yoo is looking to be completely cut from the drama.

This is because Hunan Television recently issued an order for all scenes with Korean actors to be edited out, according to a new internal policy.

Similarly, Shin Woo-chul, the director behind many hit shows including the 2010 romantic comedy “Secret Garden,” was set to film a 12-episode series next month that was to be jointly produced with the Chinese video streaming site Youku Tudou and a Korean production company. Casting was already finalized, but several days ago Youku informed its Korean partners it has decided to postpone production indefinitely.

“Under the current atmosphere,” a Youku representative said, “even if we produce the series it will be difficult to air it.”

Despite the flourishing of cultural exchange between Seoul and Beijing in recent years, especially marked by the explosive success of the mega-hit KBS drama “Descendants of the Sun,” a Korean and Chinese joint production, there have been a series of stumbling blocks in recent collaborative projects.

In some cases, segments with Korean actors and celebrities are not being aired on TV even though they have already been filmed.

State broadcaster Beijing Television, or BTV, and Korea’s SBS, had agreed on a six-year cooperation project, including plans for the upcoming 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympic Games. This project had already been approved by the Chinese government’s publicity department, yet as of late July, Beijing has shown a passive attitude to the plan.

Word is circulating that along with joint drama productions, Hallyu stars’ concerts are facing setbacks, as well. Chinese broadcasters only give vague excuses such as, “It’s not possible under the current atmosphere.”

Korea industry insiders suspect this is in retaliation to Korea’s decision in July to deploy the U.S.-led Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (Thaad).

Beijing has strongly opposed the deployment of the American antiballistic missile system in South Korea, saying it goes against its security interests. This had led to concerns that Beijing may retaliate and that their reaction will have repercussions both diplomatically and economically.

“When asked if the changes in plans were because of Thaad, they replied vaguely that it was an internal decision,” one Beijing-based production executive said. “When we ask related agencies if there were any issues violating guidelines, they said there has been no official order issued.”

“It is a known fact that an official of the State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television, which overseas all broadcasting content, has called saying to restrict cultural exchanges,” said an executive of another production company. “But this was not an official guideline so we are taking a wait-and-see approach.”

“Retaliating to the Thaad deployment through cultural projects is something China knows cannot be justified so it will be difficult to make it official,” a Korean cultural industry insider said. “But it is assumed to be a strategy to increase pressure on Korea by hitting where it hurts.”

BY YEH YOUNG-JUNE, SHIN KYUNG-JIN [kim.sarah@joongang.co.kr]

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