About 58.1 percent of South Koreans view Japan as a military threat, up from 46.3 percent the previous year, now that Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is moving to beef up postwar security policy, a survey said Friday.
The joint survey, conducted by Japanese civic group Genron NPO and South Korean think tank East Asia Institute from April to May, drew responses from around 1,000 people in each country and found that only 11.2 percent of Japanese respondents view South Korea as a military threat.
In a multiple-choice question, 83.4 percent of South Koreans and 71.6 percent of Japanese said they regard North Korea as a military threat, while 36.8 percent of South Koreans and 64.3 percent of Japanese said they viewed China as a military threat.
“It is shocking that in South Korea, Japan is seen as a military threat more so than China,” Genron NPO chief Yasushi Kudo said at a news conference.
Abe’s government is on pushing to pass bills to expand the types of missions the Self-Defense Forces can engage in and to enable Japan to engage in collective self-defense, or coming to the aid of an ally under armed attack, even when Japan itself is not under attack. They are also aimed at allowing Japan to participate in more peacekeeping operations abroad.
Around 40 percent of the South Koreans polled said they also believe a military clash with Japan could occur within several years, while less than 10 percent of Japanese said likewise.
Ties between Japan and South Korea have deteriorated in recent years over history-related issues, including the ianfu, or “comfort women,” Japan’s euphemism for the tens of thousands of females forced to provide sex to Imperial Japanese soldiers before and during the war. Japan annexed the Korean Peninsula from 1910 to 1945, when it was liberated by the Allied Powers.
The two countries are also in a territorial row over a pair of tiny outcroppings in the Sea of Japan known as Dokdo in South Korea and Takeshima in Japan. South Korea refers to the body of water as the East Sea.
“South Korean people have an image of Japan as being a militaristic country based on their historic memories of the war and Japan’s colonial rule. Prime Minister Abe’s recent foreign policy is enlarging that image of Japan,” Jeong Han Wool, executive director and senior researcher at the East Asia Institute, said at the news conference.
On a more optimistic note, around 70 percent of the Japanese and South Koreans who participated in the survey — the third of its kind — are concerned that public sentiment is deteriorating on both sides. More than 80 percent say the leaders of both countries need to hold a summit to improve the bilateral relationship.
If a summit is actually held, it will be the first since May 2012.