New poll sees U.S. as top threat in South Korea

Special to World
Wednesday, January 14, 2004, January 13, 2004

Ugly Americans now dangerous as well?
SEOUL - Polls conducted here indicate South Koreans view the United States as a greater threat to their security than their communist neighbor, North Korea. The poll marks a radical departure from similar findings 10 years ago, before the current Internet generation came of age.

A survey conducted by Gallup Korea in 1993 found that only 1 percent of those polled viewed the U.S. "as the biggest threat to Korean security." At that time, 72 percent believed that U.S. forces were "essential for peace on the Korean peninsula."

Research & Research, a polling company here, reported the results of a nationwide poll on January 5, in which 39 percent of 800 respondents listed the U.S. as the biggest threat compared with 33 percent who cited North Korea. Another 12 percent cited China and 8 percent Japan while 8 percent did not answer.

Chosun Ilbo, the largest newspaper in South Korea, reported a survey conducted by Gallup Korea in September found that 42 percent thought Kim Jong Il "posed a greater threat to Korean peace" than did President Bush. Some 38 percent believed that Bush was a greater threat than the North Korean leader.

The poll results show a vast generation gap in attitudes toward the United States reflecting South Korean pride over economic and cultural achievements along with anger over nasty incidents in which U.S. soldiers have been accused of crimes against Koreans.

The worst by far was the killing of two 13-year-old schoolgirls, run over by a 50-ton armored vehicle during a military exercise in June 2002. The U.S. command refused to turn the two sergeants over to Korean authorities for trial on the grounds that the tragedy occurred while they were on duty. Thousands of Koreans filled the streets of central Seoul in demonstrations after a U.S. Army court acquitted them in late 2002.

The Chosun Ilbo survey showed that respondents in their 20s were "most likely to harbor anti-U.S. sentiment" with 58 percent seeing the U.S. as the biggest threat, while 20 percent saw North Korea that way.

On the other hand, more than half, 52 percent, of those in their 50s cited North Korea the major national security threat, with only 18 percent of them viewing the United States as the worst enemy.

Women tended to view the U.S. more negatively than did men. The poll found 37 percent of all men cited the U.S. and 36 percent cited North Korea as the major threat to the nation. But 41 percent of women respondents cited the United States, while 30 percent cited North Korea.

For those in their 30s, 47 percent chose the United States and 22 percent chose North Korea. Among those in their 40s, the United States and North Korea obtained similar responses, with 36 and 34 percent, respectively.

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