Japan-S. Korea Public Opinion Survey: Understanding of Security Cooperation Deepens, But Problems Remain

Many Japanese and South Koreans have shown an awareness of the need for trilateral security cooperation among Japan, the United States and South Korea. One can say this is an encouraging trend.

The governments of Japan and South Korea need to expand specific areas of cooperation, including for security, and show that maintaining an amicable relationship is positive for citizens of both countries.

In a joint survey by The Yomiuri Shimbun and South Korean newspaper Hankook Ilbo, high percentages of respondents — 86% of Japanese and 79% of South Koreans — were for strengthening security cooperation among the three nations.

In addition, 88% in Japan and 72% in South Korea cited “diplomacy and security” as an area in which both nations should promote cooperation in the future. It is extraordinary that this figure exceeded 70% in South Korea.

In East Asia, North Korea is accelerating its missile development and China has not stopped its aggressive maritime expansion. Russia, which continues its aggression against Ukraine, is deepening its military ties with China and North Korea.

Against the background of this worsening security environment, there may be a growing awareness in South Korea that cooperation not only with the United States but also with Japan, another U.S. ally, is essential.

The survey also highlighted once again that public sentiment toward the other country has improved in both places, and that an increasing number of people feel a sense of closeness with the other country, as South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol, who has pursued improved relations with Japan, took office in 2022 and held a series of meetings with Prime Minister Fumio Kishida.

The percentage of Japanese respondents who said the current state of bilateral relations was “good” reached 50% for the first time in 13 years, while the figure for South Korean respondents stood at 42%, reaching the 40% range for the second consecutive year.

The percentage of those who feel a sense of closeness with the other country was particularly high among younger respondents ages 18 to 39 in both countries. It can be said that this is a favorable factor for building future-oriented relations.

What is worrisome is the unrelenting movement in South Korean political circles and elsewhere to undermine Yoon’s emphasis on diplomacy with Japan.

The largest left-wing opposition party, which secured a single-party majority in the April general election, is pressing for a review of Yoon’s foreign policy, claiming that he has made too many concessions to Japan, probably with the aim of inflaming lingering anti-Japanese sentiment among the South Korean public in anticipation of the presidential election three years from now.

A series of court rulings have also been handed down ordering Japanese companies to pay compensation in lawsuits involving former wartime requisitioned workers from the Korean Peninsula.

One has to be concerned about the tendency of South Korean courts to issue rulings that are anti-Japan-leaning on historical issues between Japan and South Korea.

If this situation continues, Japanese sentiment toward South Korea could deteriorate again.

Using relations with Japan as a tool in South Korea’s political battles will only benefit North Korea, Russia and China, which seek to divide Japan, the United States and South Korea, and will not be in the interest of South Korea. It is hoped that South Korean opposition parties will act with caution.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, June 11, 2024)