• Kyodo

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Some 71.6% of South Koreans see Japan unfavorably, up 21.7 percentage points from the previous year, as diplomatic relations between the Asian neighbors remain precarious due to wartime labor issues, a survey showed Thursday.

The proportion of South Koreans who have good feelings about Japan fell by 19.4 points to 12.3%, near the record-low of 12.2% seen in 2013, according to the poll conducted in September and October by Tokyo-based nonprofit think tank Genron NPO and the Seoul-based East Asia Institute.

The annual survey, which started in 2013, reflects sharply deteriorating sentiment among South Koreans toward Japan. Those who see bilateral relations as extremely poor or poor soared 22.3 points from the previous year to a record-high of 88.4%, it said.

Tokyo-Seoul ties deteriorated following a South Korean top court order in October 2018 for a Japanese company to pay four men for the forced labor they endured during the 1910-45 period of Japan’s colonial rule on the Korean Peninsula.

Japan argues the ruling goes against a 1965 bilateral agreement under which it provided financial aid to South Korea with the understanding that the compensation issue was settled “completely and finally.”

Among Japanese, views on South Korea have slightly improved from last year, with 46.3% saying they have unfavorable feelings, down 3.6 percentage points, and those having good feelings climbing to 25.9% from 20%, which was the lowest since 2013.

“It is said that 2019 was the worst year for the Japanese and South Korean governments. Their dispute over their views on history also spread to economic and security issues,” Yasushi Kudo, head of Genron NPO, said in a statement.

Kudo was referring to Japan’s apparent retaliation to South Korea’s ruling, which saw Tokyo tighten export controls of materials used to manufacture semiconductors and display panels and a threat by Seoul to terminate a bilateral military intelligence-sharing pact that helps the countries respond to missile threats from North Korea.

“While neither government has been able to show any intent to improve the difficult (situation), moves to boycott Japanese products and trips to Japan have escalated among the South Korean public. On top of that, the novel coronavirus pandemic has virtually stopped bilateral exchanges,” Kudo said.

The top reason for South Koreans viewing Japan in a negative light was that “Tokyo is not correctly reflecting on its past history of aggression” toward South Korea at 61.3%, followed by the existence of a territorial dispute over a pair of islets in the Sea of Japan at 45.0%.

On the Japanese side, 55.7% said they had a poor view of South Korea because it continues to criticize Tokyo over wartime history, the survey showed.

The survey received responses from 1,000 people aged 18 or above in Japan and 1,006 people aged 19 or above in South Korea.

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