Monday, January 4, 2010

South Koreans show less of a cold shoulder to Japan

A century of hurt can't be cured overnight, but the last five years have seen significant healing in Japan-Korea relations.

A half-century after Japan normalized ties with the Republic of Korea in 1965, views by South Koreans toward Japanese remain negative, according to a Donga Ilbo poll released Jan. 1. The new opinion survey was conducted for the daily by the Korea Research Center to mark the centenary of Japan’s annexation of Korea in 1910. It found that emotions toward Japan are still strong among Koreans, though there has been a marked easing of feelings of dislike since their previous survey in March 2005. The survey also showed that Koreans continue to seek an acceptable apology from Japan for its colonial past.

Most Koreans are not averse to a proposed visit from Japan’s Emperor Akihito, outweighing those with negative feelings by two-to-one.

In the 2005 survey (see the Mansfield Foundation Center Asian Polls database), 63.7% of South Koreans said they disliked Japan. Only 7.8% were willing to say they liked Japan, while 28.7% took a neutral stance. Respondents to the 2005 poll were most likely strongly influenced by the controversial visits of then Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi to Yasukuni Shrine, seen as a symbol of Japan’s past militarism. Most Koreans – 58% -- then felt that their feelings toward Japan were getting worse.

In contrast, the 2009 poll ( see Donga Ilbo’s English website) showed a marked improvement, with 35.9% saying they disliked Japan, cutting the 2005 figure in half. Those with favorable views toward Japan inched up to 10.8% (for young people up to 20, the figure was 18.1%, indicating that for this age bracket, the Japan allergy was easing somewhat). A majority of Koreans, 52%, took a neutral stand, also reflecting an apparent easing of negative feelings toward their neighbor. A mere 6.8% wanted better Korean sentiment toward Japan, and even fewer – 5.3% -- sought a review of Japan’s compensation for its colonial past.

On the question of what should be done about Japan’s past actions on the Korean Peninsula, 32.3% insisted that only an acceptable apology from Japan would resolve the issue, closely followed by 29.1% who felt joint studies by both countries were necessary to reach an accord on history. Another 25% suggested that broader cultural exchanges were the answer. In contrast, the 2005 poll found 42.6% of Koreans wanting an acceptable apology from Japan, far more than the 23.9% who wanted joint historical studies. Only 4.6% would seek Japan’s reconsideration of its compensation, and 5.5% felt that comprehensive exchanges between the two peoples were advisable.

On the touchy issue of a proposed visit by Emperor Akihito to South Korea, an impressive 64.2% of Koreans would accept it, double the 31.1% who were opposed, saying it was premature given that negative feelings were still strong. The under-20s were even more positive about the visit (70.3%), compared to their elders. The question was not even asked in the 2005 poll, perhaps because the answer then was obvious.

William Brooks
APP Senior Fellow

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