South Korean public opinion as Park Geun-hye takes office

February 5, 2013 6:30 AM

The South Korean public regards “economic growth” as the top priority for the incoming Park Geun-hye government according to two recent polls.  I recently received a short report from the TNS office in Seoul summarizing South Korean public opinion on a variety of issues, and comparing those views to those found five years ago as Lee Myung-bak came into office.

With regard to North-South relations, the delinkage of politics and humanitarian aid continues to have strong support in South Korea. According to a Dong-a Ilbo poll two-thirds of the public support a continuance of humanitarian aid “regardless of the political situation.”

There also seems to be broad support for talks. According to a KBS/MBMR poll, a majority of respondents (55.4 percent) supported talking to North Korea before obtaining an apology and another 13.5 percent supported talks without any conditions.

However, according to the Dong-a Ilbo poll, the public is split over the “24 May measures” that restricted commercial interaction with the North, put in place in 2010 following the sinking of the Cheonan. Six percent of the respondents indicated that the policy must be removed; almost half, 49 percent, indicated that a solution should be found through negotiation; 34 percent said that the policy should be revoked following a North Korean apology, and a symmetrical 6 percent said that the policy must not be removed.

Likewise, a Kyunghang Shinmun/HRI poll found support for conditionality: “should continue support after getting apology and promise to prevent reoccurrence” (60.2 percent) compared to “should continue the support without any terms” (37.5 percent).

In short, there is widespread support for humanitarian engagement and North-South negotiations.  But when it comes to specific policies or agreements, the bulk of public opinion supports conditionality or reciprocity, with a noticeable minority backing unconditioned support.

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Marcus Noland Senior Research Staff

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