Dark clouds over Korea-China relations

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Dark clouds over Korea-China relations

The author is the head of the China Institute of the JoongAng Ilbo.

While events are taking place across the country in celebration of the 30th anniversary of diplomatic ties between Korea and China, Korean people’s negative perception about China has reached 80 percent for the first time, casting dark shadows over the next three decades of ties. Eighty-seven percent of Korean respondents disliked Chinese President Xi Jinping, and Korea is the only case of young people having more negative views on China than the middle-aged group. The results were published by the Pew Research Center on June 29.

The average of the negative perception toward China in 19 countries was 68 percent, 12 percent lower than Korea’s. The country with the strongest anti-Chinese sentiment was Japan, 87 percent, followed by Australia, 86 percent, Sweden, 83 percent, and the United States, 82 percent. Last year, Korea’s negative view was 77 percent, but this year it increased 3 percentage points, the fifth highest among 19 countries. The prime cause of anti-Chinese sentiment in Korea was China’s involvement in Korean politics. Fifty-four percent raised this issue, the highest among the surveyed countries.

I assume that China’s retaliation for Korea’s sovereign decision of the Thaad deployment must have affected this. It is not a coincidence that China picked on President Yoon Suk-yeol’s attendance to the NATO summit in Madrid. The next reason was China’s military strength and human rights policy. The weakest claim was the anti-Chinese sentiment caused by economic rivalry with China. What is worrisome in the future of Korea-China relations is that Korea is the only country where young people’s anti-Chinese sentiment is stronger than that of older people.

In case the of Japan, older people’s anti-Chinese sentiment was higher, but in Korea, young people under age 30 disliked China by 22 percent more than older citizens. On the affinity of President Xi Jinping, 87 percent said Xi doesn’t seem to do the right thing on international issues. This suggests that the bilateral relations would get better only when Xi’s image in Korea improves.

Regardless of feelings toward China, major countries expect China’s international influence will continue to grow, with the average of 66 percent. But only 55 percent of Korean respondents expected China’s influence to increase, the second lowest after Malaysia’s 52 percent. On the other hand, 19 percent of Koreans said China’s influence would weaken, the highest along with Canada. The survey results evidently illustrate that tremendous efforts will be needed to open a new future of ties in the next 30 years.
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