Poll shows strong support for U.S. tiesIn recent public opinion polls, South Koreans have expressed a more favorable view toward North Korea than toward the United States, their political and military ally and trade partner of more than 50 years.
Yet survey respondents have consistently acknowledged the importance of the role the U.S. military has played in securing peace in the Korean Peninsula.
To celebrate its 38th anniversary, the JoongAng Ilbo, which owns the JoongAng Daily, conducted a survey of South Koreans earlier this month on Korea-U.S. relations.
The survey of 1,710 South Koreans, which took place Sept. 15-17 and involved two groups of pollees, was organized with the Center for Strategic and International Studies based in Washington.
In the survey, 93 percent of respondents said the relationship between Korea and the United States was important for Korea’s national interests, compared with 6.8 percent who said the ties had little or no effect on Korea’s well-being.
Eighty-two percent of the respondents said the alliance between the two countries contributed to peace and stability in Korea, whereas 18 percent said it did not. Seventy-three percent said the relationship between both countries must continue on the current course or grow even stronger.
The respondents were nearly evenly split, however, on the need for the alliance after the two Koreas are reunified, with 33 percent saying U.S. ties would be necessary and 29 percent saying they would not.
Asked whether the U.S. military was vital to South Korea’s security, 87 percent said it was; 13 percent said it was not.
More than 82 percent of respondents in the survey said U.S. forces should be stationed longer in South Korea.
In a JoongAng Ilbo survey last year, 49 percent of respondents said U.S. forces should continue to be stationed here. In a June poll, 60 percent cited the need for American forces.
In a separate question in the June poll, 31 percent said U.S. forces should remain in Korea indefinitely. In this month’s survey that number rose to 63 percent; 22 percent said U.S. forces should withdraw from the peninsula within three years, compared with 38 percent in June.
Asked why U.S. forces should stay here longer, 55 percent of those in the latest survey said to restrain North Korea from provocative activity or invading the South.
Despite the clear majority of South Koreans who favor a U.S. presence here, the survey shows that the general feeling toward the United States has changed in recent years.
In another part of this month’s survey, the United States was second in drawing South Koreans’ enmity, led only by Japan. North Korea ranked third.
Moreover, the United States came second after North Korea as the nation most threatening to South Korea, with 33 percent describing the relationship with America as good, and 66 percent saying it was not.
Responding to questions about anti-Americanism among South Koreans, 55 percent of the respondents in the September poll said it is spreading beyond the younger generation, whereas 44 percent said it is isolated among younger Koreans.
Perceived U.S. unilateralism was cited by 58 percent of respondents as the main reason for anti-American sentiment. The presence of the U.S. military in Korea and America’s interference in Korea’s military affairs and foreign diplomacy were cited by 14 percent. Fourteen percent said that Americans’ ignorance of Korea was the cause of anti-Americanism; 4.5 percent said negative feelings toward the United States were a result of its hard-line policy on North Korea.
The September survey indicates an increase in the number of South Koreans who consider North Koreans “as brothers.”
In the survey, 64 percent of parti- cipants said North Korea will not attack South Korea within the next three years; 39 percent said mutual assistance between South and North Korea should come before the alliance between Seoul and Washington.
The majority of respondents in the June poll said strengthening the alliance should come first.
North Korea was second after China as the nation South Korea should have a closer relationship with if the alliance between South Korea and the United States weakens.
Only 34 percent in the September survey indicated having knowledge of the Status of Forces Agreement, the treaty that governs the activities of U.S. forces in Korea. Sixty-six percent said they knew nothing about it.
The margin of error ranges between plus and minus 3.1 percent for the first group of 1,000 pollees and 3.7 percent for the second group of 710.
Security links political camps, but they split on U.S. presence
The September survey indicates very similar views were held by supporters of the two candidates in the last presidential election, Roh Moo-hyun and Lee Hoi-chang, regarding security issues and national interests. But the two camps split on views on the United States and North Korea.
Among the 299 pollees who identified themselves as supporters of Mr. Lee, 59 percent said they held favorable views of the United States. About 53 percent of the 428 supporters of Mr. Roh said they were critical of the United States.
Twenty-five percent of the Lee supporters chose the United States as the nation they liked the most; whereas only 15 percent of Roh supporters voiced the same opinion.
Thirty-percent of Roh supporters and 13 percent of Lee supporters said they disliked the United States.
Furthermore, 20 percent of Lee supporters said North Korea was the nation they disliked the most; 53 percent said it posed the biggest threat to South Korea.
Among Roh supporters, 10 percent expressed dislike for North Korea, and 42 percent said it was the most threatening country.
Ninety-percent of Lee supporters and 86 percent of Roh supporters said the U.S. military was important to the security of the peninsula.
Thirty-four percent of Roh supporters said the alliance with the United States should continue with a unified Korea. Only 30 percent of Lee supporters concurred.
Regarding the need for U.S. forces to remain stationed here, more than 87 percent of Lee supporters and 81 percent of Roh supporters said U.S. troops should not be withdrawn.
Older generation sees North as the main enemy
The survey shows a large gap by generation concerning views on the relationship between Korea and the United States, with younger pollees holding a more negative stance toward the United States and one more favorable toward North Korea.
Pollees in their 20s said they disliked the United States the most; Japan was the second most disliked nation. Only 4 percent among those in their 20s said they disliked North Korea more than any other nation.
The majority of members of both generations, more than 90 percent of each group, said the relationship between South Korea and America was vital to national interests.
Five percent of the older generation and 28 percent in their 20s said the stationing of U.S. forces in Korea was no longer necessary. Twenty-six percent of pollees in their 50s or older put U.S. ties above relations with the North. North-South ties were favored by 46 percent of those in their 20s.
Thirty-eight percent of respondents in their 20s said North Korea and the United States were the countries most threatening to South Korea.
More than 64 percent of those in their 50s or older said North Korea was the most threatening nation, whereas 10 percent selected the United States.
Thirty-eight percent of those in their 20s and 9 percent of those in their 50s or older said ties between the United States and South Korea should be scaled back.
by Ahn Boo-Keun