[VIEWPOINT]Danger Lurks in Anti-American TrendSince Sept. 11th anti-American sentiment in Korea has reached a new level, which is now becoming a global concern that needs to be approached from a completely different angle. Although the intensity and the essence of anti-Americanism in Korea is fundamentally different from the anti-Americanism of many Islamic fundamentalists, it has been on the rise in recent years. In the past, the predominant view was that anti-U.S. sentiment in Korea was limited to a small group of radical activists among students and intellectuals.
While doing research for a book I am writing, I found that the rise in anti-Americanism is an issue that needs to be approached and dealt with in a new manner. In a survey of 576 students from five major universities in Seoul, 53.7 percent said they harbor feelings against the United States, and 39.8 percent indicated a low level of anti-American sentiment. Five percent replied they only disagree with the superpower on certain issues, and 1.6 percent of the students said they back U.S. policies.
According to historical documents on how Koreans view the United States, until 1970 most South Korean students were pro-U.S. Students considered the United States a reliable military ally, economic sponsor and a model democratic nation. An analysis of materials released after 1980 shows that during the '80s the basis for anti-American sentiment included U.S. government support for the military-backed government in Korea, hostility toward American culture, America's role in the nation's division, economic reliance, and Koreans' own complex of being a developing nation.
However, these reasons, which were the dominant factors in anti-U.S. sentiment, have moved down the chart. About 54.7 percent of students in the most recent poll protest the danger, pollution and property damage involving the Maehyangri bombing range on the west coast, environmental pollution caused by American bases and issues related to the legal status of American soldiers stationed in Korea. A sizeable portion of the pollees (12.5 percent) said they oppose America for being hostile to North Korea, and 11 percent found fault with globalization, which Washington has pushed.
On the question of U.S. troops stationed in Korea, 25.5 percent answered that the U.S. military should be stationed throughout the peninsula, 59.1 percent said there should be only a limited number of troops. In response to the same question, 15.4 percent replied that U.S. troops should leave Korea.
The once reliable ally who in the past was treated with great admiration and respect by Korean college students now faces an unfriendly atmosphere, and the trend seems to be increasing with the generational change on campuses. Korean society is still led by those who were pro-U.S. as youth. However, generations come and go and the seats of power will be filled by younger leaders. The majority of college graduates among the younger generation express anti-Americanism, and analysts in Washington are paying attention to these warning signs, saying the trend is getting stronger every year.
The United States political system, which highly respects public opinion, will eventually pull U.S. troops out of Korea if feelings against the United States continue to increase. However, the relationship between the United States and South Korea includes not only security concerns but also economic interests. Our government, which has to juggle reconciliation with the neighboring North and protection of domestic security, must maintain a healthy and cooperative relationship with the United States. Fortunately, the results of the research and the survey show that the growing sentiment against the United States has not affected domestic politics, and it is expressed only as discontent over the United States' passive participation on Korea's sunshine policy.
The United States should take note of Korea's wide support for U.S. forces in Korea and Washington's North Korea policy as benefiting not only Korea but the United States as well. For the Korean government, security measures should be dealt with as a top priority, and the government should give a full explanation of the merits of its engagement policy toward North Korea, maintaining the transparency of the policy because the success of the sunshine policy depends largely on securing U.S. support and confidence.
The public, especially the younger generation and students in general, must be made aware of the importance of stable security on the peninsula. The increasing displeasure with the United States requires an unprecedented balance in policy that effects the relationship between the two countries. The press and civic groups should not fall into partisanship on this matter.
The writer is a professor of international relations at Myongji University.
by Ahn Young-sop