Researchers from the Asan Institute have recently put out two pieces on public opinion which read together can be interpreted as a snapshot of how South Koreans see the world and their place in it. Bottom line: they see themselves and China rising and the US and Japan declining (below).
First, how favorably to they see foreign countries? As shown below, South Koreans regard the US more favorably than they do China, Japan, or North Korea. While there do not appear to be major trends in the favorability ratings of either the US or China, declines in good feeling toward Japan and North Korea are obvious in the polling data.
Those feelings are largely mirrored in South Korean attitudes toward individual leaders (see below). South Korean President Park Geun-hye is slightly more popular than US President Barack Obama. Chinese President Xi Jinping and Russian President Vladimir Putin occupy an intermediate position in South Koreans’ affections. Probably the most striking result is that Japanese Prime Minister Abe Shinzo barely edges out North Korea’s Kim Jong-un with a favorability rating less than half that of Putin.
And where do South Koreans see the world moving? Today the US is regarded as the most powerful nation, followed by China, Russia, Japan, and South Korea. But ten years hence, South Koreans see China replacing the US as the most influential country, with Russia and South Korea tied for third. Japan falls to last place. That South Koreans expect their own country in a decade to equal Russia in influence in world affairs suggests that South Koreans do not lack ambition. But you didn’t need me to tell you that, did you?