South Korean view of the North takes nosedive

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South Korean view of the North takes nosedive

South 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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통일연구원 작년 말 여론조사

북한에 대한 국민 여론이 크게 악화돼 김대중 정부 출범 이전 수준으로 회귀한 것으로 나타났다. 대북 햇볕정책이 본격화한 1998년 조사 때 54.4%였던 부정적 대북 인식은 2003년 41.1%, 2005년 31.1%로 호전 추세였으나 지난해 56.4%로 올라갔다. 이는 통일연구원(원장 서재진)이 지난해 11월 실시한 여론조사를 과거 세 차례의 결과와 비교 분석함으로써 파악됐다. 이번 조사에서 북한이 ‘경계 대상’이란 응답이 43.8%로 가장 많았고, ‘적대 대상’(12.6%)까지 포함하면 부정적 응답이 56.4%에 달했다. 최진욱 남북협력연구센터 소장은 21일 “금강산 관광객 피살 사건과 2차 핵실험 등 북한의 도발과 남북관계 경색이 반영된 결과”라고 분석했다.
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