Concerns about Yoon’s US-biased diplomacy are shared across generations in Korea

Posted on : 2023-06-05 16:36 KST Modified on : 2023-06-05 16:36 KST
A focus group interview with Koreans shows that even more vocally pro-US age groups tended to see relations with China as needing to “be resolved”
President Yoon Suk-yeol of South Korea shakes hands with President Joe Biden of the US during their joint press conference following a bilateral summit at the White House in Washington on April 26. (presidential office pool photo)
President Yoon Suk-yeol of South Korea shakes hands with President Joe Biden of the US during their joint press conference following a bilateral summit at the White House in Washington on April 26. (presidential office pool photo)

The 70-year alliance between South Korea and the US is being forced to shift roles in the era of strategic competition between the US and China. While the Yoon Suk-yeol administration has responded by following an ideological line with his “values diplomacy” and paying more attention to Korea’s alliance with the US, the Korean public want nothing more than peace.

To mark the 70th anniversary of the South Korea-US alliance, the Hankyoreh commissioned the polling agency Human n Data to carry out a focus group interview with 23 men and women aged 20-80.

“We’ve been neglecting diplomacy with China since we’ve focused so much on the relationship with the US,” said one participant, a woman in her 60s. “I feel like we should be a little bit more flexible. Once we’re halfway with the US, we should see how China’s reacting, and put forth diplomatic policies wisely.”

Most participants underscored maintaining a “balance” rather than depending wholeheartedly on the US, implying that Korea should be paying closer attention to its relationship with China.

The interviews were conducted from May 25 to June 3, and the participants were divided into three groups by age, with 10 participants in their 20s and 30s, seven participants in their 40s and 50s, and six participants in their 60s and 70s.

Among the three groups, vocally pro-US participants in their 60s and 70s also expressed anti-China sentiments. However, among the six people in that age group, five stated that Korea should still “resolve things” with China.

“We have a blood alliance with the US. The current president is actively pushing for better ties with the US, and I think that’s a good thing,” said one interviewee, a man in his 70s. “Once we make some progress with the ROK-US alliance, we should pay attention to our relationship with China. You can dislike them all you want, but this concerns our livelihood. They are our trading partner, so we shouldn’t give them the cold shoulder.”

Another man in his 70s said, “China treats us like a tiny country that they can walk all over. When our relations sour in the slightest, [China] never admits fault. It’s going to be difficult for us to get along.” However, he also did say that China was a country that, along with the US, South Korea should cooperate with.

Seven out of 10 interviewees in their 20s and 30s, and all seven interviewees in their 40s to 50s, spoke of their desire to restore ties with China.

“Just like a ship strikes a balance for its survival in the face of a tidal wave, whether we’re talking about the desires of China or the US, it’s best to keep that sort of balance in the Korea-US relationship as well,” said one participant in his 50s.

“One of my professors recommended that I take part in a survey, so I did. [By taking part,] I heard that there is a lot of anti-Korean sentiment in China,” said one participant in his 20s. “One of the reasons for such sentiments was based on the claim that South Koreans hate the Chinese. Even when we don’t talk about political issues, this is something that’s becoming more and more apparent to the general public.”

“Historically, it’s rare for a country in a dependent relationship with another country to succeed,” he added.

On the other hand, one woman in her 30s said, “[Korea] should have a good relationship with the US. I feel that China is a closed-off country, and we don’t know how its attitude toward us will change.”

She also added that Korea should “cooperate with other countries, such as those in Southeast Asia, to reduce our dependence on China.”

One respondent, a man in his 30s, said, “Anti-China sentiment amongst those in their 20s and 30s is strong, since we’ve faced issues such as China’s Northeast Project and THAAD. While we do need to cooperate economically with China, we need to make sure to keep an eye on them.”

He also added that “Japan is openly colluding with the US, and we need to mirror that.”

Many agreed that balancing diplomatic policies between the US and China should be South Korea’s diplomatic strategy.

“If we improve our ties with China, wouldn’t that also help us balance out our relationship with Japan? President Lee Myung-bak also pursued pragmatism,” said one woman in her 40s. “There should be some efforts to improve relations with China so that the general public can keep up their livelihoods.”

“When you’re in a committed relationship, you don’t have to try that hard, but it’s different when nothing’s set in stone. Since Korea is a geopolitical necessity to the US, we need to balance our way between the two countries and make sure that we make enough allies all around,” said one participant in his 40s.

By Jang Ye-ji, staff reporter

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