Rising Optimism in South Korea, Caution in Japan, Amid US Diplomacy With Pyongyang

Patrick Goodenough | July 6, 2018 | 4:23am EDT
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Secretary of State Mike Pompeo heads for Pyongyang for talks with Kim Jong Un and other officials on Friday, July 6, 2018. (Photo: @SecPompeo/Twitter)

(CNSNews.com) – President Trump’s June 12 summit with Kim Jong Un appears to have contributed to a surge of optimism in South Korea, although majorities polled in both South Korea and Japan do not expect North Korea to completely shut down its nuclear programs in the near future.

The surveys were released shortly before Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was due to arrive in North Korea Friday for what will be his third visit to the reclusive dictatorship this year.

During a brief stopover in Japan en route, he told accompanying pool reporters that he wanted to use the visit to “fill in some details” on commitments made in Singapore and “continue the momentum toward implementation of what the two leaders promised each other and the world.”

The rise in optimism is most evident in South Korea, where a survey for the Asan Institute for Policy Studies, a Seoul-based think tank, found 54 percent of respondents expressing feelings of “trust” towards the regime in Pyongyang – compared to 10.7 percent recorded in a similar survey in 2013.

The poll, released on Thursday, also measured favorable sentiment towards the North at 4.71 (on a scale of one to ten), an increase from 3.52 recorded just three months before the Trump-Kim summit, and the highest score since the survey was first conducted in 2010.

That favorability rating for North Korea (4.71 points out of 10) was higher than the equivalents for China (4.16) or Japan (3.55). Respondents’ favorable feelings towards the United States were measured at 5.97 points out of 10, up from 5.64 points in March.

When it came to South Korean respondents’ views of the two leaders, favorability ratings for both increased noticeably between March and June this year, albeit from low starting levels – from 3.76 to 5.16 for Trump, and from 2.02 to 4.06 for Kim Jong Un.

The survey also found 62.6 percent of respondents were optimistic about North Korea’s implementation of an agreement to denuclearize.

Conversely, the proportion of those pessimistic about the likelihood of North Korea denuclearizing dropped from 44.3 percent in March, to 24.7 percent following the Singapore summit.

‘Pressure’ versus ‘dialogue’

South Korea and Japan, both U.S. treaty allies, are the two countries most directly threatened by North Korea’s nuclear weapons and within easy range of its ballistic missiles.

South Korea remains technically at war with the North since the 1950-53 Korean war ended with an armistice rather than a peace treaty. Inter-Korean tensions have eased markedly this year, however, with the North Koreans taking part in the Winter Olympics hosted by the South, and two summits between Kim Jong Un and President Moon Jae-in.

Japan has a difficult history with North (and South) Korea; Imperial Japan annexed and occupied the peninsula from 1910 until the end of World War II in 1945. More recent tensions with Pyongyang relate to the unresolved issue of more than a dozen Japanese citizens abducted by North Korea in the 1970s and 80s.

A photo released by North Korean regime media shows President Trump and Kim Jong Un at their summit in Singapore on Tuesday, June 12, 2018. (Photo: Uriminzokkiri)

Another new survey, carried out jointly by two newspaper in South Korea and Japan, found that majorities in both countries held favorable views of the Trump-Kim summit – although considerably more so in the case of South Korean respondents (83 percent) than those in Japan (59 percent).

The survey, conducted by Japan’s Yomiuri Shimbun and South Korea’s Hankook Ilbo, found similarly big gaps between Japanese and South Korean respondents on other aspects of the North Korean threat

Majorities in both countries – 83 percent in Japan and 66 percent in South Korea – did not think the complete denuclearization of North Korea would take place in the near future.

South Korean and Japanese respondents also differed in the extent to which they felt “pressure” rather than “dialogue” should be prioritized in dealings with North Korea.

Among South Korean respondents, 60 percent favored dialogue and 20 percent chose pressure (compared to 44 percent dialogue and 30 percent pressure in a previous survey.)

Forty-six percent of Japanese respondents advocated pressure and the same number favored dialogue (compared to 51 percent pressure and 41 percent dialogue in the previous poll.)

Should the complete dismantling of the nuclear weapons program be a prerequisite for easing of sanctions against the regime? Seventy-one percent of Japanese respondents said yes, compared to 55 percent of those in South Korea.

Forty-four percent of South Korean respondents said they would accept phased sanctions relief along with progress in denuclearization. Only 26 percent of Japanese respondents felt the same.

An Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research poll in the U.S. following the Singapore summit found that Americans’ approval of Trump’s handling of North Korea had risen to 55 percent, up from 42 percent in March and 34 percent last October

Fifty-two percent of U.S. respondents said they had little to no confidence that negotiations would result in Pyongyang giving up its nuclear weapons, compared to just 12 percent who were very or extremely confident of that outcome.

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