A new government sponsored survey found that nearly 60 percent of South Koreans view North Korea as a cooperative partner.
The survey, which was commissioned by South Korea’s Unification Ministry and released on Thursday, found that 58.2 percent of South Koreans believe North Korea is a country Seoul should and does cooperate with. By contrast, just 13.3 percent of respondents said they viewed North Korea as a hostile country.
The survey was conducted by telephone by Research & Research, a local polling firm, and based on responses from 1,000 South Koreans.
Despite a strong majority viewing North Korea as a cooperative partner, only 22.2 percent of the respondents said they supported South Korea providing aid to its northern neighbor. Similarly, there was a pretty even split between respondents who felt that Seoul should deal with North Korea’s nuclear program through a combination of dialogue and pressure, and those who felt a better approach would be dialogue and cooperation.
There was considerably more consensus among respondents about President Park Geun-hye’s handling of the North Korea relationship. Around 77 percent of respondents said they supported her efforts to pursue trust-building measures with North Korea. Around 70 percent of those surveyed also said that they agreed with her recent assessment that reunification would be a bonanza for South Korea.
South Koreans continue to view North Korea considerably more favorable than do their American counterparts. For example, a Gallup poll from February of this year found that 84 percent of Americans had an unfavorable view of North Korea, compared to just 11 percent who viewed it favorably. Out of the 22 countries asked about in the Gallup poll, North Korea was the country Americans viewed least favorably.
The relatively favorable image North Korea has among South Koreans shouldn’t come as a complete surprise. As Ankit reported back in March, one survey found that South Koreans view North Korean leader Kim Jong-un more favorably than they do Japanese leader Shinzo Abe. At the same time, a survey released earlier this month found that nearly 88 percent of South Koreans supported a relationship with Japan that is mutually beneficial and based on cooperation, while just 11 percent opposed this kind of relationship.
Today’s survey comes at an interesting time in inter-Korean relationships. On the one hand, South and North Korean naval forces have exchanged fire on a number of occasions across their maritime border in recent weeks. At the same time, South Korean President Park has continued advocating for a trust-building process with Pyongyang, and has more recently been promoting the notion that reunification would be an economic boon for South Korea.
There have also been more and more signs that a serious effort is underway to restart the six-party talks about North Korea’s nuclear program. China and South Korea’s foreign ministers held a meeting in Seoul this week that appeared to focus heavily on North Korea. After the meeting, which was also believed to be planning a forthcoming visit to South Korea by China’s President Xi Jinping, South Korea praised China for allegedly strengthening its resolve vis-à-vis North Korea’s nuclear program. More importantly, North Korea’s envoy to the six-party talks recently held a track II dialogue in Mongolia with former senior U.S. diplomats who have experience working on North Korean issues.