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South Korean Views on the U.S. Rebalance to Asia

The U.S. rebalance to Asia continues to stir debate in South Korea. This debate has thus far been carried out via the discussion of the political elite on what the U.S. initiative means for Korea. However, the perceptions of the general public on the U.S. rebalance have not yet been investigated. This paper seeks to fill that void. Understanding public opinion in South Korea is of critical importance as it can be volatile and has the power to shape approaches to foreign policy. The findings of the paper present a dilemma for the United States. The South Korean public is ambivalent on the U.S. pivot with only a slim majority in support. The rebalance is primarily viewed through a security lens and is seen as a way to blunt the threat of North Korea. However, any attempt to emphasize this aspect of the initiative may ultimately undermine its support as it will exacerbate fears of increased competition and potential conflict with China. This paper offers a snapshot of Korean public opinion one year after the launch of the U.S. rebalance to Asia, and captures a public that already perceives the nuance of the complexities of region.

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