SEOUL – South Koreans are much more optimistic than Japanese people about the prospects for North Korean denuclearization, an annual survey showed Monday, as a series of summits this year have led to a dramatic defusing of tensions.
Over 60 percent of South Korean respondents believed the North Korean nuclear issue would be resolved within 10 years, while only 10 percent of the Japanese surveyed expected that to be the case.
Despite North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s commitment to complete denuclearization, first made at an inter-Korean summit in late April, 65.1 percent of Japanese respondents thought it would be difficult to resolve the issue, almost unchanged from the previous year, according to the poll conducted by Japanese nonprofit think tank Genron NPO and South Korea’s East Asia Institute.
Last year, 71.3 percent of those polled in South Korea said it would be difficult to resolve the nuclear issue.
In response to a multiple-choice question, 62.7 percent of the South Korean respondents expected relations between their country and North Korea to improve over the next decade, while only 15.3 percent of the Japanese said likewise, and 34.4 percent predicted that inter-Korean ties would remain unstable.
The survey, conducted between mid-May and early June, received valid responses from 1,000 people in each country.
During that period, South Korean President Moon Jae-in and Kim met for the second time in a month at the truce village of Panmunjom and discussed ways to implement the declaration aimed at bringing peace to the Korean Peninsula that was issued after their first meeting on April 27.
At that time, Kim also expressed his desire to have successful talks with U.S. President Donald Trump during an unprecedented summit in Singapore, which was held on June 12.
Asked about the future of the peninsula, 33.7 percent of South Korean respondents said the two countries should be unified, while 24.9 percent expected they would continue to exist separately but form an entity similar to the European Union.
Of the Japanese respondents, the largest proportion, at 27.8 percent, said they were unsure about what would happen, followed by 21.6 percent who said North and South Korea would continue to exist as they do now.
Sohn Yul, president of the South Korean institute, said it was noteworthy that the latest survey, the sixth of its kind since 2013, revealed a huge difference in perception between the two countries over North Korea.
At a joint press conference with Genron NPO in Seoul, he said that “figuring out the right methodology to resolve the nuclear issue and achieving international cooperation could be quite difficult if Japan’s pessimistic view toward North Korea and the huge difference with South Korea persist.
Yasushi Kudo, who heads Genron NPO, said Japan is so far not a major player in the restarted negotiations on North Korea’s denuclearization, unlike South Korea and the United States, and that is one of the major reasons behind the considerable difference.
On relations between Japan and South Korea, often frayed over wartime and territorial issues, the survey also provided contrasting results.
While 28.3 percent of South Korean respondents said they had favorable feelings toward Japan, up from 26.8 percent a year earlier, the proportion of Japanese with favorable feelings toward South Korea fell to 22.9 percent from 26.9 percent.
The survey found that 50.6 percent of South Koreans and 46.3 percent of Japanese have negative impressions of each other, the lowest in both cases since 2013, compared with 56.1 percent and 48.6 percent, respectively, last year.