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South Koreans are mixed on North

Aug 01,2018
South Koreans hold ambivalent views on North Korea, at once considering the country a security threat and eventual compatriot in a poll commissioned by the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism released on Tuesday.

In a survey conducted between June 29 and July 6, weeks after a historic summit between U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, Korea Research, a South Korean polling firm, asked 1,521 people across different regions, genders and age groups a range of questions about North Korea.

The results showed wide support for the Moon Jae-in administration’s policy of rapprochement with North Korea, with 75.1 percent responding that they regarded Moon’s foreign and defense policies in a favorable light and 85.1 percent saying the two inter-Korean summits held on April 27 and May 26 were positive.

North Korea still occupies a central place in the public’s interest, according to the poll, though perceptions about the country are mixed. A large majority of respondents, 82.1 percent, said they were very interested in North Korea, but in response to specific questions, 78.4 percent considered North Korea a “threat to national security” and 70.2 percent responded affirmatively to a question that asked whether they were suspicious of the country.

But in a sign that feelings toward the North are more complicated than just friend and foe, a similar segment of the population, 77.6 percent, also said the South “needs to collaborate” with the North, and 76.3 percent of respondents said the North was “an ultimate target of unification.” These numbers indicate that the South Korean public largely retains misgivings about the North yet still regards unification as an ultimate necessity.

When segmented by age group, the results show that South Korea’s younger generation harbors greater reservations about the North and the idea of unification than older Koreans.

In the survey, 28.2 percent of people in their 20s said they did not consider North Koreans as part of the same nation, compared to just 15 percent of people in their 40s.

The generation in their 20s also demonstrated lower favorability toward North Korea, at 46.6 points out of 100, relative to their counterparts in their 30s and 40s who were at 50 points.

The recent detente between the two Koreas also appears to have improved the public’s expectations of unification. A large majority, 82.5 percent, believes unification will be possible in the short or long term. A bulk of the respondents, 62.9 percent, said they preferred a gradual form of unification, while 29.9 percent said they wanted the Koreas to remain separate countries though in peaceful coexistence. Most of the respondents, 64.6 percent, answered that unification would eventually be a boon to the country.

With regards to the extra cost to the public that unification would ultimately entail, however, responses were less enthusiastic.

Only 47.1 percent said they were willing to pay additional taxes to support the costs of unification, while 30.6 percent said they were not. The other 22.3 percent were unsure.

People in their 20s were the most opposed, with 35.9 percent unwilling to pay additional costs, and only 39.3 percent saying they were prepared to do so. Among those 30 and older, almost 50 percent said they would be willing to pay extra.

BY SHIM KYU-SEOK [shim.kyuseok@joongang.co.kr]