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Americans on board defending South Korea

Sept 10,2019
Some 58 percent of Americans are in favor of U.S. troops defending South Korea in case of an attack by the North, according to a survey released by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs think tank on Monday.

Its 2019 Survey of American Public Opinion and U.S. Foreign Policy found strong bipartisan support for Washington defending Seoul against an invasion by the North - with 63 percent of Republicans, 57 percent of Democrats and 56 percent of independents. This is slightly down from 2018, when 64 percent of Americans surveyed were in favor of defending the South, but up compared to 40 percent in 2010.

In contrast, 40 percent polled this year were against Washington defending Seoul from a Pyongyang invasion - compared to 34 percent in 2018. In 2010, 56 percent were opposed.

This year, the council, with the support of the Seoul-based Korea Foundation, conducted the poll on 2,059 U.S. adults 18 years and older in a nationwide online survey from July 7 to 20.

The survey also found that 70 percent of people polled believed that the South Korea-U.S. relationship bolsters U.S. national security.

This marked the first time the council asked in its annual foreign policy survey if the U.S. relationship with South Korea does more to strengthen or weaken U.S. national security. There was bipartisan consensus on the benefits of the alliance for U.S. security, with the support of 74 percent of Republicans, 70 percent of Democrats and 68 percent of independents.

Karl Friedhoff, a fellow in public opinion and Asia policy at the Chicago Council, wrote that “support for South Korea as an ally remains high and bipartisan” in spite of “wavering signals” from the White House.

U.S. President Donald Trump has implicitly questioned the value of the South Korea-U.S. alliance and also has been pressuring Seoul to pay more for the upkeep of U.S. troops. However, the report found that Americans remain committed to South Korea and that U.S. attitudes have changed little despite “dizzying” affairs in the region, including the summits with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and Trump for the denuclearization of Pyongyang, as well as the inter-Korean summits, according to Friedhoff.

He also noted that an “important part” of the South Korea-U.S. security relationship is the stationing of U.S. troops here.

The report said that Trump has “made these bases a bargaining chip as negotiations about burden sharing continue, claiming that South Korea does not pay nearly enough” for the stationing of the U.S. troops, noting that Seoul “pays roughly 50 percent of the total cost.”

But the poll found that 69 percent of Americans were in support of the maintaining or increasing of U.S. military forces in South Korea - with 12 percent wanting an increase and 57 percent wanting the current levels retained.

In contrast, just 16 percent were in favor of reducing U.S. troop levels in South Korea, and 13 percent were in favor of a withdrawal.

The survey also found perception of South Korea’s influence to be on the rise, with the summits with North Korea and also increasing awareness of Korean cultural products, including K-pop, in the United States.

It found the perceived influence of South Korea in the world in 2019 is at a “record high” of 5.0 on a 10-point scale, up from 4.8 last year and 4.5 in 2017.

It is above Iran at 4.7 but still slightly below countries like India at 5.2 and other regional neighbors like Japan at 6.0 and Russia at 6.7.

BY SARAH KIM [kim.sarah@joongang.co.kr]


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