SEOUL – The list of electoral issues that will determine South Korea’s presidential race next year is long. Runaway home prices, the epidemic, North Korea, and gender inequality are just the beginning. But an unlikely addition has emerged in recent weeks: China.
South Korea’s decision to allow the US military to deploy Powerful anti-missile radar system On its territory in 2017, it was repeatedly criticized by China. And last month, presidential candidate Yoon Seok-yeol asked the country to stop complaining, unless it wanted to remove its radar systems near the Korean peninsula.
Political elites here are usually careful not to antagonize China, the country’s largest trading partner. But Mr. Yun’s scandalous rhetoric reflected a new phenomenon: a growing hatred of Beijing among South Koreans, especially young voters whom conservative politicians are eager to win.
Anti-Chinese sentiment has grown so much this year that China has replaced Japan – a former colonial ruler – as the most negative country in South Korea, according to a joint magazine.survey By polling company Hankook Research and Korean news magazine SisaIN. In the same poll, South Koreans said they preferred the United States over China six to one.
More than 58 percent of the 1,000 respondents described China as “close to evil” while only 4.5 percent said it was “close to good”.
Negative views of China have deepened in other developed countries as well, but of the 14 countries surveyed last year by the Pew Research Center, South Korea was the only Young people had more negative views of China than previous generations.
“Until now, hatred of Japan has been such a part of Korean national identity that we have a common saying: You know you are a real Korean when you feel hatred toward Japan for no particular reason,” said Jeong Han Sof, senior analyst. In Hankook Research. “In our survey, people in their forties and above still hate Japan more than China. But those in their twenties and thirties, the generation that will lead South Korea in the coming decades, tip the scales against China.”
South Korea will elect its next president in March, and observers are watching closely to see how young people vote on the country’s policy toward Beijing.
Conservatives in South Korea have described anything less than full support for an alliance with Washington as “pro-North Korean” and “pro-China”. Progressives typically support reconciliation with North Korea and advocate diplomatic “autonomy” between the United States and China. Younger South Koreans have traditionally voted progressive, but millennials are breaking that pattern, perhaps turning into swing voters.
“We get frustrated when we see our government behaving mindlessly while Beijing is acting like a bully,” said Chang Jae-min, a 29-year-old voter in Seoul. “But we also don’t want too many tensions with China or North Korea.”
For decades, South Korea has benefited from a military alliance with the United States while working to develop trade relations with China to fuel economic growth. But this balance is becoming increasingly difficult to maintain as relations between Washington and Beijing deteriorate.
President Moon Jae-in’s conservative opponents, such as Yoon, have complained that South Korea’s ambiguous policy toward the United States and China has made the country the “weakest link” in the US-led war. Alliance of Democracies Working to counter Chinese aggression.
“We cannot remain ambiguous,” Mr. Yoon told JoongAng Ilbo, a South Korean daily, last month. Interview In which he made his critical remarks about China.
The conservative opposition has long accused Moon of being “pro-China”. His government emphasized that South Korea – like other American allies, including those in Europe – should avoid alienating either power. While South Koreans overwhelmingly support an alliance with Washington, the country’s trade with China is almost as large as its trade with the United States, Japan, and the European Union combined.
“We cannot take sides,” Foreign Minister Chung Eui-yong said.
However, when Mr. Moon met with President Biden in Washington in May, the two leaders emphasized the importance of maintaining “peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait,” and pledged to make their alliance a “fundamental pillar of the regional and global order.” Many analysts saw the statement as a sign that South Korea was aligning more closely with Washington at the risk of angering China, which marked Taiwan as a red line.
The main conservative opposition, the People’s Power Party, has already begun to harness the anti-China sentiment of young voters to secure an electoral victory.
In April, help young voters achieve success landslide victories To party in mayoral races in the two largest cities in South Korea. Last month, the party’s young leader, Lee Joon-suk, 36, said his fellow South Korean millennials would fight back against the Chinese. “Cruelty” In places like Hong Kong and Xinjiang, where China has been accused of genocide.
Older Koreans, although often anti-communist, tend to be respectful of Chinese culture, which has influenced the Korean peninsula for thousands of years. They also viewed the country as a benign giant whose rapid economic growth was a boon to South Korean exporters. Younger South Koreans tend not to share this perspective.
Most of them grew up proud of their local economic and cultural successes. As China’s foreign policy became more assertive under President Xi Jinping, they began to see the country’s authoritarianism as a threat to a free society. They also criticized China’s handling of the coronavirus, its expansion in the South China Sea, and the fine dust pollution from China that regularly covers Seoul.
“They grew up in a liberal environment that was raised in previous generations of race and blood, so they hold an inherent hatred towards illiberal countries,” said Ahn Byung-jin, a professor of political science at Kyung Hee University in Seoul. “They encourage politicians who criticize China.”
Nowhere has South Korea’s dilemma between Washington and Beijing been significantly amplified more than the deployment of US anti-missile radar, otherwise known as Terminal High Altitude Area Defense, or THAAD.
When South Korean officials approved the deployment, they described it as a necessity to defend against North Korea. China viewed this as part of an ongoing threat from the US military presence in the region, and Revenge By limiting tourism to South Korea and boycotting cars, smartphones, shopping malls and TV shows in the country.
Ha Nam-suk, a professor of Chinese politics and economics at Seoul University, has watched as growing hostility toward Beijing has emerged on and off campus in recent years, as money-hungry South Korean universities have begun to accept more Chinese students.
He said South Korean and Chinese students clashed over whether they would support young pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong. They also got into fights online K-pop And kimchi. In March, several South Korean youth forced a television station to cancel a drama series after it showed an ancient Korean king eating Chinese dumplings.
“As they watched what China was doing in places like Hong Kong, Koreans started asking themselves what it would be like to live under a larger sphere of Chinese influence,” Mr. Ha said.