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KEI Spotlight

Report Released on the Future of U.S.-Korea Relations

December 17, 2012

The Chicago Council on Global Affairs, in partnership with Korea’s Asan Institute for Policy Studies and the Korea Economic Institute, have released a new report on U.S.-Korea relations. The report comes at a pivotal moment following the North Korean rocket launch and prior to mid-December elections in both Japan and South Korea.

The report on the U.S.-ROK Alliance is based on an October 15 conference in Washington DC. Its findings include:

  • The North Korean Threat
    A majority of South Koreans (89%) say dealing with the North’s nuclear program is a top priority for the ROK-U.S. alliance. Americans feel similarly, with a large majority (76%) saying that dealing with the North’s nuclear program is a very or somewhat high priority in the U.S.-ROK relationship. Until recently, there was concern that a new South Korean president would seek greater engagement with the North Koreans than Americans would have been comfortable with. December’s North Korean missile launch makes this outcome less likely.
  • Americans Remain Committed to South Korea
    There is strong support for U.S. bases in South Korea, with a majority (60%) of Americans in favor of long-term military bases there. This is a substantially higher percentage than support for bases elsewhere, including longtime U.S. allies Germany and Japan (both 51%) and Australia (40%).  Furthermore, a majority (65%) of Americans see South Korea as “mostly partners” rather than “mostly rivals,” and half (49%) see Koreans as sharing similar values or way of life with the United States to some or a great extent, up from 35 percent in 2008.
  • The Rise of China
    The Korean public is divided: a slight majority (53.5%) sees China as a partner rather than a rival (46.5%), and a majority says that South Korea should put a higher priority on building a new cooperative relationship with China (61%) over maintaining its strong relationship with traditional allies such as the United States (38%). At the same time, however, 68 percent of Koreans support the long-term military presence of the United States and express overwhelming support for the ROK-U.S. alliance (94%).
  • Japan and the Trilateral Relationship
    While a large majority of Americans (80%) see Japan as a partner, esteem for Japan has sharply declined in recent years among South Koreans. As measured on a ten-point scale, favorability towards Japan declined from 4.2 in 2010 to 2.7 in 2012 – a lower favorability than North Korea (3.3). Managing tensions between its Asian partners South Korea and Japan  will be a key challenge for the United States moving forward.  A renewed threat from the DPRK—such the December 12 rocket launch—may serve to push Japan and South Korea closer together, and ease some of the tension.

This report and the conference from which it was derived was made possible by a generous grant from the Korea Foundation.

Download the report on the U.S.-ROK Alliance (PDF).

Picture by U.S. Army Korea (Historical Image Archive)