South Koreans Now Dislike China More Than They Dislike Japan

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SEOUL — The list of election issues set to define South Korea’s presidential race next year is long. The runaway housing prices, the pandemic, North Korea and gender inequality are a start. But an unlikely addition has also emerged in recent weeks: China.

South Korea’s decision ​​to let the American military deploy a powerful antimissile radar system on its soil​ in 2017 has been the subject of frequent criticism from China. And last month, a presidential hopeful, Yoon Seok-youl, told the country to stop complaining, unless it wanted to remove its own ​radar systems near the Korean Peninsula.

Political elites here are usually careful not to antagonize China, the country’s largest trading partner. But Mr. Yoon’s blunt rhetoric reflected a new phenomenon: a growing antipathy toward Beijing among South Koreans, particularly young voters whom conservative politicians are eager to win over.

Anti-Chinese sentiment has grown so much this year that China has replaced Japan — the former colonial ruler — as the country regarded most unfavorably in South Korea, according to a ​joint ​survey by ​the polling company ​Hankook Research​ and the Korean newsmagazine SisaIN. In the same survey, South Koreans said they favored the United States over China six to one.

Over 58 percent of the 1,000 respondents called China “close to evil” while only 4.5 percent said that it was “close to good.”

Conservatives in South Korea have called anything less than full-throated support of the alliance with Washington “pro-North Korean” and “pro-Chinese.” Progressives usually support reconciliation with North Korea and calls for diplomatic “autonomy” between the United States and China. Younger South Koreans have traditionally voted progressive, but millennials are breaking that pattern, and possibly turning into swing voters.

The conservative opposition has long accused Mr. Moon of being “pro-China.” His government has maintained that South Korea — like other American allies, including those in Europe — should avoid alienating either power. While South Koreans overwhelmingly support the alliance with Washington, the country’s trade with China is almost as big as its trade with the United States, Japan and the European Union combined.

Most of them grew up proud of their homegrown economic and cultural successes. And as China’s foreign policy became more assertive under President Xi Jinping, they began to see the country’s authoritarianism as a threat to free society. They have also been critical of China’s handling of the coronavirus, its expansionism in the South China Sea and fine-dust pollution from China that regularly blankets Seoul.

Author: desi123 is an online news portal that aims to provide the latest trendy news for Asians living in Asia and around the World.

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