South Korean view of the North takes nosediveSouth Koreans’ perception of North Korea has worsened to a level not seen since before Seoul adopted a more open-arms policy toward Pyongyang in the late 1990s, according to a survey by a state-run institute.
A survey of 1,000 South Korean adults showed that 56.4 percent have a negative perception about North Korea, the Korea Institute of National Unification reported.
In comparison, only 31.1 percent had such a view on North Korea in 2005, the last time the survey was taken. The latest survey was conducted last November.
South Koreans’ perception improved at the turn of the century, going from 54.4 percent having negative view in 1998 to 41.1 percent by 2003. From 1998 to 2003, the Kim Dae-jung administration pursued a more engaging North Korean policy, dubbed the “Sunshine Policy.”
Since 2005, North Korea has carried out two nuclear tests and been involved in naval clashes with the South. A South Korean female tourist was also shot dead by a North Korean solider at Mount Kumgang resort in 2008.
Furthermore, the North has defied international pressure by refusing to return to the six-party denuclearization talks, which have been on hold since December 2008.
In the meantime, inter-Korean relations have worsened under the conservative Lee Myung-bak administration. Lee has halted rice and fertilizer supplies to the North, tying aid to the North’s progress in denuclearization.
This year, the Lee government has also been lukewarm toward the North’s repeated calls for dialogue. More than half of those surveyed said they didn’t feel inter-Korean relations have improved much.
“The results reflect [South Koreans’ disenchantment about] the series of North Korean provocations, including the second nuclear test [in 2009], and the deteriorating inter-Korean relations,” said Choi Jin-wook, head of the Center for South-North Korean Cooperation Studies under the institute.
Other categories also showed South Koreans’ fears about North Korea. Nearly 70 percent said they feel threatened by North Korea’s nuclear weapons, and nine out of 10 said they were pessimistic that the North would abandon its nuclear arms.
Rumors of a third inter-Korean summit emerged last fall and President Lee Myung-bak hinted in January that he could meet North Korean leader Kim Jong-il this year. Nearly 90 percent of the surveyed said they would like to see a summit take place.
“Many South Koreans feel the North is responsible for strained inter-Korean relations,” Choi said. “But they would like to see the government pursue dialogue rather than put pressure on North Korea.”
By Yoo Jee-ho
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