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The Peninsula

Hard Material Interests and Public Sentiment

Published January 21, 2022
Author: Korea View

What Happened:

  • Despite controversies around the legacy of Japan’s colonial exploitation, recent polling found that South Koreans have a less favorable view towards China than they do toward Japan.
  • President Moon did not join the diplomatic boycott of the Beijing Winter Olympics nor did he stop Chinese tour groups coming to South Korea during the pandemic, despite public demand for both.
  • Conservative presidential candidate Yoon Seok-youl has vowed to take a harder stance against China and align more closely with the United States if elected.

Implication: Public sentiments are not always aligned with the country’s material interests. In a recent survey, 67.8% of South Koreans believe that Seoul should support the United States in the U.S.-China rivalry even though only 53.7% believe that Washington will actually win the rivalry. Meanwhile, a mere 4.4% of survey participants believe that the country should support China. This presents additional challenges for President Moon who looks to manage ties with Beijing and avoid any retaliatory actions that would hurt the domestic economy.

Context: China’s unofficial sanctions in response to Seoul’s installation of a U.S. anti-ballistic missile defense system in 2017 cost South Korea USD 7.5 billion in economic losses. Those sanctions, alongside the promotion of Sino-centric interpretations of Korean history; crackdowns on democracy in Hong Kong; and suspicions that Beijing has not been forthcoming about the origins of COVID-19, have all contributed to rising anti-Chinese sentiment. Simultaneously, South Korea’s own domestic challenges, such as rising property prices, are also aggravating public attitudes towards China.

This briefing comes from Korea View, a weekly newsletter published by the Korea Economic Institute. Korea View aims to cover developments that reveal trends on the Korean Peninsula but receive little attention in the United States. If you would like to sign up, please find the online form here.

Korea View was edited by Yong Kwon with the help of Kayla Harris, David Lee, Sarah Marshall, and Mai Anna Pressley. Picture from Flickr account of Jonathan van Smit

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