SEOUL – With Seoul-Tokyo relations at their lowest ebb in years, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is now as unpopular with South Koreans as North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, according to a survey released Wednesday.
Following Abe’s contentious visit in December to the war-related Yasukuni Shrine, his already low favorability rating in South Korea declined to 1.0 on a 10-point scale, according to the poll carried out by the Asan Institute think tank in Seoul.
“This is the same favorability rating found for Kim Jong Un,” the institute said.
Nevertheless, half of the South Korean public said they supported the idea of a South Korea-Japan summit and nearly 60 percent wanted President Park Geun-hye to take an active role in improving ties.
Park has ruled out a summit with Abe until Tokyo demonstrates sincere penitence for “past wrongdoings,” but she has held out the prospect of an eventual summit with Kim Jong Un.
Japanese politicians express exasperation at the repeated requests for contrition, pointing to numerous apologies and a 1965 agreement that normalized relations and included a large payment to Seoul.
The Asan survey showed that half of South Koreans identify the dispute over Takeshima, a tiny set of islets in the Sea of Japan, as the main obstacle to improved relations.
South Korea controls the islets, which it calls Dokdo, and sees Japan’s claim as an example of its refusal to shed its imperialist past.