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Support for North Korea dwindling, poll shows

Sept 10,2015
South Korea has turned increasingly conservative toward the North over the past decade, particularly people in their 20s, a poll shows.

To mark the 70th anniversary of Korea’s liberation from Japanese colonial rule and the 50th year of its founding, the JoongAng Ilbo conducted an in-depth survey on the country’s identity.

The Asiatic Research Institute of Korea University and the East Asia Institute drafted the poll in cooperation with the JoongAng Ilbo.

Polling company Hankook Research conducted the survey from June 19 to July 8, polling 1,006 adults nationwide through in-depth, face-to-face interviews. The poll has a 95 percent confidence level with a margin of error of plus or minus 3.1 percentage points.

The survey showed that the South Korean public is increasingly showing negative views toward the North. More people said they do not recognize the legitimacy of the North Korean government than in 2005 and opposed expanding assistance.

In 2005, 58.9 percent of the public said the South Korean government is the only legitimate government on the Korean Peninsula. The number rose to 68 percent in 2010 and to 79.5 percent in 2015.

Asked about the future of the Kim Jong-un regime, more people now think it will collapse within a few years.

In 2010, 9.9 percent said the Kim regime would fail within several years. This year, 16.8 percent said so.

In the 2010 survey, 18.9 percent said the young ruler’s control of the North would continue, but that number went down to 11.2 percent in the 2015 poll.

Most South Koreans said the Kim regime would eventually collapse, but it will take time. In 2010, 69.9 percent said so.

This year, 63.2 percent felt that way. When asked about their general sentiments toward the North, multiple responses were allowed. Some 35.6 percent used the term “we” to describe the North, while “brother” was chosen by 43.8 percent, “neighbor” by 43.2 percent, “stranger” by 30.1 percent and “enemy” by 29.8 percent.

Asked about resuming economic assistance to the North, suspended since the sinking of the Cheonan warship in 2010, 56.4 percent said the current status should be maintained, while 10.2 percent said assistance should be expanded.

Indifference to the North has also risen. In 2005, 36.8 percent of respondents said they had no interest in the North or in North Korean people. That number went up to 53.4 percent this year.

Among respondents in their 20s, 63.5 percent said they have no interest in the North or the North Korean people. For respondents in their 30s, the figure was 59.6 percent.

The South Korean public was generally skeptical about unification. Only 16.3 percent said unification should be achieved soon, while 39.3 percent said the two Koreas should be unified taking into account various factors.

Another 31.9 percent said there is no need to rush unification, and 12.5 percent said there is no particular need for unification at all.

Male respondents had a stronger interest in unification than women. According to the poll, 50 percent of female participants said they want unification, while 61.4 percent of men said they desire it.

Asked why the two Koreas should reunify, 37.2 percent said it is because the two Koreas were originally one people. Another 21.6 percent said unification is needed to stimulate economic growth, 16.7 percent said to resolve the issue of separated families and 12.5 percent said to improve Korea’s diplomatic power in the international community.

Asked about how the two Koreas should unify, 52.9 percent said the North should be absorbed into the South Korean system, while 33 percent said the two Koreas need to maintain their own systems and coexist.

Asked about the possible benefits of Korean unification, 13 percent said it would be very beneficial to the country, and 41.6 percent said it would be somewhat beneficial.

But 46.5 percent said they would not pay for unification costs, and about 90 percent of the respondents said they want no more than 100,000 won ($84) of their tax money to be spent for unification.

More than 72 percent said China will be the country that will have the most influence over Korea over the next decade. The United States came second with 13.3 percent, Japan with 7.6 percent and North Korea with 6.3 percent. In the 2005 poll, China was rated with 40.7 percent and the United States 31.3 percent.

The public’s interest in strengthening the Korea-U.S. alliance to check the growing influence of China also grew. Of those polled, 42.9 percent said the alliance must be strengthened.

Analysts, however, said this does not necessarily mean that the public wants the government to make the United States Korea’s top priority in the foreign policy. The public do want a strengthened alliance to balance China’s growing influence and to heighten the South’s deterrence against the North, they said. According to the poll, 64.2 percent said they want balanced diplomacy in the rivalry between the United States and China.

BY Special reporting team [ser.myoja@joongang.co.kr]


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