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North Korea: Witness to Transformation

Japan-South Korea: How Bad Can it Get? (Part II)

by | July 29th, 2014 | 07:32 am

Yesterday, we provided an overview of a new survey on Japan-South Korea relations from the East Asia Institute (Seoul) and Genron NPO, focusing on the depressing importance of history issues. Today, we consider the geostrategic consequences.

Chart 10 shows that publics in both countries recognize the importance of the bilateral relationship, although the share of Japanese respondents emphasizing the relationship dropped sharply between the 2013 and 2014 surveys.

Genron Jpn-sk poll chart10

But a number of questions reveal quite different interpretations of the overall geostrategic setting. Chart 26, which focuses on threats, is perhaps the most surprising of these. Large majorities of both South Koreans and Japanese list North Korea as a threat, but perceptions of China—and one another—diverge sharply. While over 70% of Japanese see China as a threat, only 40% of South Koreans do; moreover, about as many South Koreans see Japan not only as a threat but as a military threat. These views naturally shape affinities among the three major Northeast Asian powers (Chart 12). 37% of Japanese still feel stronger affinity with South Korea than China; only 5% feel strong affinity with China. But these opinions are almost reversed in South Korea (39% feeling closer affinity with China, only 12% more affinity with Japan).

Genron Jpn-sk poll chart12

Chart 21 provides one last bit of evidence on geostrategic perceptions, asking respondents about international leadership. Overwhelming shares of South Korean respondents—over 80%–see US and China as “leading the world from now on,” a distinctly Asian-centered great-power worldview. Japanese opinion is more fragmented. The US gets the most votes with just under 50% of respondents. But nearly 40% place hope on the G7/G8, and 15% cite the G20. Only 15% see China leading, not much more than Japan itself.

Genron Jpn-sk poll chart21

These findings suggest that the challenges facing the US alliance system in Northeast Asia are by no means limited to the bilateral history issues discussed in the last post. Rather, the Korean public recognizes it operates in an environment shaped by two great powers of roughly equal weight and importance. The Japanese public, by contrast, denies the prospect that China will play a leadership role, relying to a much greater extent on the US alliance and multilateral processes.