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The Peninsula

Korean Sentiments Toward China Continue to Worsen

Published June 3, 2020
Category: South Korea

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.

What Happened

  • A recent survey by the Carnegie Endowment for Peace found that only 26% of South Korean respondents believe that China would be a supportive partner of unification on the Korean Peninsula.
  • Recently, the arrest of a Chinese national who entered South Korea without documentation has prompted an investigation into potential espionage activity.
  • Negative perceptions towards China have been evident since tensions over the installation of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) battery in Korea.

Implications: Negative views towards China may intensify as the Korean public places greater attention on inter-Korean issues. The recent Carnegie survey revealed that public sentiments towards China became more hostile when framed in the context of unification. While survey data does not show how COVID-19 has affected attitudes towards Beijing, the recent espionage probe into a Chinese national may further color perceptions of the bilateral relationship. As the Moon administration has greater political space to advance inter-Korean ties, the increased focus on relations with North Korea may further exacerbate negative attitudes towards China.

Context: According to a 2015 Pew Research poll, 61% of South Koreans had favorable views of China. However, a December 2019 poll showed only 34% of South Koreans have a favorable view of China, while 63% have an unfavorable view. A major catalyst for the deterioration in attitudes may stem from Chinese retaliation against Korea’s installation of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) battery. Chinese boycotts against Korea products cost companies like Lotte nearly USD 2 billion in losses.

Korea View was edited by Yong Kwon with the help of Gordon Henning, Soojin Hwang, Hyungim Jang, and Ingyeong Park.

Picture from flickr user Haluk Beyazab

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