Press Release

Koreans support U.S. alliance, but wary of clash with China

  • 2023-10-19
  • Yoo Jee-Hye, Esther Chung (Korea Joongang Daily)

Koreans are carefully weighing the possible consequences of expanded security cooperation with the United States, especially regarding possible conflicts with China, a survey suggests.

In a recent survey of 1,000 Koreans over the age 18 by the JoongAng Ilbo and the East Asia Institute, 81.8 percent agreed that the Korea-U. S. alliance should address not only issues of the Korean Peninsula but also those of the region at large.

General positivity toward the “alliance forged in blood” during the 1950-53 Korean War was also bipartisan, with 80.2 percent of self-identified liberals and 86.2 percent of self-identified conservatives agreeing on the need for the alliance to address regional issues.

However, the survey conducted to mark the 70th anniversary of the Korea-U. S. alliance also showed that respondents valued Korea’s relations with China.

Although 52.6 percent of respondents described current Korea-China relations as “bad,” 81.8 percent nevertheless said that bilateral ties with Beijing were important, compared to 13.7 percent who said they weren’t.

When asked if they thought bilateral relations would improve in the future, 54.2 percent predicted they would remain more or less the same as today, while 28.3 percent said they would improve. Another 11.4 percent said they would worsen.

The conservative Yoon Suk Yeol government has been vocally pro-American from the get-go, making the strengthening of the alliance with the United States one of its key foreign policy objectives. Coupled with improved ties with Japan, the Yoon admіnistration has been pursuing closer security cooperation with both Tokyo and Washington.

Beijing has balked several times over Seoul’s joint statements with Washington or Yoon’s comments regarding security in the Taiwan Strait, a matter China considers “purely internal” and not subject to “interference” by foreign powers, as the country's diplomats and officials have repeatedly stressed.

Should a conflict break out between the United States and China in the Taiwan Strait, a majority of respondents wanted Korea to take no part in the clash.

Slightly more respondents said Korea should remain uninvolved in a clash over Taiwan than those who said Korea should play a role in the conflict, 56.5 percent to 43.5 percent.

When asked more generally what Korea should do in a potential conflict between the two superpowers, 50.3 percent said Korea should stay neutral; 45.2 percent said Korea should support the United States; and 4.2 percent said that Korea should support China.

When asked if the U.S.-Korea alliance was dragging Korea into potential conflicts in the region, 66.5 percent said they agreed, while 33.5 percent disagreed.

“The majority of Koreans are in favor of expanding the scope of the Korea-U. S. alliance in principle, but they also think it is important to individually consider the risks of the expanded alliance,” the East Asia Institute said in its report.

However, when specifically asked about their perceptions of China, survey respondents demonstrated a strong antipathy toward the country.

A total of 71.9 percent of respondents said they have a negative image of China, while 14.8 percent said they have a positive image of the country.

The top reason for negativity toward China was Beijing’s political and economic pressure on Seoul following Korea’s decision to allow the deployment of a U.S. antimissile systеm on its soil. Other reasons included China's perceived disrespect for Korea and diplomatic spats over historic issues.

When it came to what they think about Chinese President Xi Jinping, 55 percent said they had a negative image of Xi, and only 4 percent said they had a positive image of him.

Younger respondents in their 20s and 30s were generally well disposed toward the United States.

When asked if they thought China would overtake the United States in the near future as a superpower of the region, 73.4 percent of the respondents in their 20s and 30s disagreed, 5 percentage points higher than the survey respondents as a whole.

A total of 73.9 percent of respondents in their 20s and 30s also said they have a positive image of the United States, which was also a few percentage points higher than the 71.9 percent of total respondents who said the same.

The respondents also demonstrated some positivity toward increased cooperation with Japan.

When asked if it is necessary for Korea to improve relations with Japan for the sake of advancing the Korea-U. S. alliance, 71.5 percent said yes, while 28.5 percent said no.