A recent survey in South Korea showed that when it comes to trustworthiness, people put the United States at the top of the list and China at the bottom, indicating that most South Koreans want the county’s foreign policy to be centered around the United States instead of China.
This year marks the 30th year since South Korea and China formally established diplomatic relations. Since then, China has become South Korea’s largest trading partner in both imports and exports. South Korea relies on China for over 25 percent of overall trade.
However, despite the heavy reliance on Chinese trade, South Koreans’ negative perception of China has grown stronger in recent years, according to polls.
In December 2021, the Seoul National University Asia Center (SNUAC) conducted a survey of 1,031 individuals in South Korea about their preferences towards 20 countries including the United States, China, Japan, Australia, France, and Germany.
The results showed that 71.6 percent of the respondents picked the United States as the most trustworthy country while only 6.8 percent chose China, ranking it last among the 20 countries.
When asked about South Korea’s most suitable partner for cooperation, 69.2 percent picked the United States while only 6.9 percent and 6.5 percent picked China and North Korea, and Japan was at the bottom with 1.1 percent.
In regard to countries that South Korea should maintain friendly relations with, 68.2 percent chose the United States, and only 9.6 percent chose China. When asked which country has a positive influence on South Korea, 67 percent chose the United States, 8.4 percent chose China.
Additionally, the SNUAC asked the respondents to pick a “temperature of affection” ranging between 0 and 100 degrees Celsius representing their preference toward each of the 20 countries. The United States scored the warmest temperature of 65.9 degrees, while China scored 35.8 degrees, ranking it third from the bottom.
When asked who will win the strategic competition between the United States and China, 53.7 percent of respondents chose the United States, and 11.5 percent chose China.
On the other hand, when asked whether China would contribute to peace and prosperity if it led the Asian order, 78.5 percent answered “No.”
In various hot topics such as the South China Sea, Taiwan, semiconductors, new technologies, trade, and human rights, 67.5 percent to 95.8 percent of the respondents preferred to cooperate with the United States.
The survey findings indicate that the overwhelming majority of South Koreans believe the United States to be the most trustworthy country while having the strongest distrust towards China. These results may have significant implications on South Korea’s foreign policies as the poll shows that the public wishes to pursue more cooperation with the United States on major issues currently facing the country.
Anti-CCP Sentiment At Historic High
In June 2021, the Korean weekly current affairs magazine Sisa IN and the pollster Hankook Research conducted an online survey on why and how much Koreans dislike China (the CCP). The results showed that 75.9 percent of respondents think negatively about the CCP, surpassing previous poll responses that indicated 71.9 percent of those polled had a negative opinion toward Japan. In the survey, 58.1 percent of the respondents believe the CCP is close to “evil,” while only 4.5 percent think the CCP is close to “good.”
According to the research, the air pollution from China, the CCP virus pandemic, illegal fishing by Chinese boats in South Korean waters, and the CCP’s retaliation over South Korea’s deployment of THAAD (Terminal High Altitude Area Defense) were among the major causes of South Koreans’ growing anti-CCP sentiment.
THAAD is a U.S.-designed and manufactured anti-missile system installed in South Korea between 2016 and 2017 to defend against North Korea’s nuclear missile threats. However, Beijing insisted that the deployment of THAAD affects China’s security and has since adopted a series of countermeasures against South Korea.
In addition to South Korea, a Pew Research Center poll released last June showed unfavorable views of China at near historic highs in most of the 17 advanced economies surveyed. Among them, 69 percent of respondents had a negative view of the CCP. While in 15 of the 17 countries surveyed, 80 percent or more believe that the CCP does not respect the personal freedoms of its people.
The survey showed that 90 percent of U.S. respondents believe that Beijing does not respect individual liberties. Similarly, the same opinion was indicated by 95 percent in Sweden, 92 percent in South Korea, 91 percent in Australia and the Netherlands, 90 percent in Japan, and 83 percent in Taiwan.