Under the presidency of Park Geun-hye, Korea-China relations have improved significantly. Following a very successful 2013 summit, the two leaders are scheduled to hold their second summit in July 2014, and cooperation on a range of issues is increasing. As China continues to take on a larger role in the region, what that will mean for Korea in terms of security, economics, and soft power is the subject of increasing focus. Thus far, the public reaction to this warming relationship has been largely positive.
The Korean public now views China more positively than at any time since Asan began tracking this across a range of metrics. The favorability of China is currently at its highest point, and the 2014 summit will drive that number higher. Perceptions of China as a cooperative partner have also steadily increased through the first half of 2014, and will climb higher following the summit. But as this report will show, wariness of China lingers just below the surface.
First, the increase in China’s hard power unsettles much of the Korean public with a clear majority stating that it perceives this increase as a threat. While it is not perceived to be a direct threat to South Korea, it is seen as making the region a more dangerous place. Second, China’s economic rise is not seen as one of unquestionable good for the Korean economy. There are growing worries that Korea has become too dependent on China, and that an economic slowdown there will have serious consequences for the Korean economy. At the same time, Chinese firms are moving up the value chain and are already beginning to challenge Korean firms both within China and abroad.
Another significant problem that South Korea expects China to deal with is North Korea. A majority stated that addressing a nuclear North Korea is the single most important issue for the leaders to discuss during their second summit. A similar point highlights the underlying wariness the Korean public holds of China—more than two-thirds believe that China does not support the reunification of the Korean Peninsula.
Clearly, the Korean public supports recent moves to improve relations with China. But that support is not unwavering. As this report illustrates, worries about China and its rise abound, and if those are not clearly addressed they may limit the future of Korea-China relations.
Dr. KIM Jiyoon is a senior fellow in the Public Opinion Studies Program at the Asan Institute for Policy Studies. Previously, Dr. Kim was a postdoctoral research fellow at Université de Montréal. Her research interests include elections and voting behavior, American politics, and political methodology. Her recent publications include “Political judgment, perceptions of facts, and partisan effects” (Electoral Studies, 2010), “Public spending, public deficits, and government coalition” (Political Studies, 2010), and “The Party System in Korea and Identity Politics” (in Larry Diamond and Shin Giwook Eds., New Challenges for Maturing Democracies in Korea and Taiwan, Stanford University Press, 2014). She received her B.A. from Yonsei University, M.P.P. in public policy from the University of California, Berkeley, and Ph.D. in political science from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Chicago Council on Global Affairs
Karl Friedhoff is a fellow in public opinion and Asia policy at the Chicago Council on Global Affairs. He was previously a Korea Foundation-Mansfield Foundation US-Korea Nexus Scholar and a member of the Mansfield Foundation’s Trilateral Working Group. Friedhoff was previously based in Seoul where he was a program officer in the Public Opinion Studies Program at the Asan Institute for Policy Studies. His writing has appeared in The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal, among others, and he has been a frequent guest on both TV and radio to discuss US foreign policy in Asia, South Korea’s politics, and international relations in East Asia. Friedhoff earned his BA in political science at Wittenberg University and an MA in international commerce at Seoul National University.
Public Opinion Studies Team
Kang Chungku is a Principal Associate at the Asan Institute for Policy Studies. Prior to joining the Asan Institute, he was a research assistant at the Korea Dialogue Academy in Seoul. He earned both an M.A. in Sociology and a B.A. in English at Korea University. His research interests include quantitative research methods, survey design, and statistical data analysis.
Center for Public Opinion and Quantitative Research
Lee Euicheol is a program officer in the Public Opinion Studies Center at the Asan Institute for Policy Studies. His main responsibilities are practicing and analyzing ‘Asan Daily Poll’ and ‘Asan Annual Survey’. His research interests include opinion polls, Korean politics, and elections. He received his B.A. in Business Administration from Yonsei University.