Nine out of 10 South Koreans think North Korea will not give up its nuclear weapons, but nearly half think the South should still seek dialogue with the North, according to a recent poll.
In an annual face-to-face survey of 1,003 adults conducted from May 20 through June 10 by the Korea Institute for National Unification, 89.5 percent said Pyongyang will not denuclearize, the highest since 2016.
Only 15.6 percent said they think dialogue and compromise are possible with the North’s Kim Jong-un administration.
Nevertheless, 45.7 percent think Seoul should keep trying -- up from the previous survey in November 2019, when 38.1 percent thought so, but down from April 2019, when 51.4 percent did.
“(The responses to questions on perceptions of the North) might seem contradictory, but I think it shows that the people are rather rational,” KINU’s chief of unification policy research, Lee Sang-shin, said.
Two out of 5 respondents said they thought North Korea’s military power was stronger than the South’s, compared with 32 percent who thought the opposite.
Forty percent said they agreed with the statement “There isn’t much our government can do regarding North Korea’s nuclear development,” up from 34.7 percent in November.
“In order to gain the people’s support for the government’s plan for ‘denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula and building peace,’ there is an urgent need for policy to gain their trust in its ability to manage the North’s nuclear issue,” KINU said in a commentary about the survey.
About 55 percent agreed with the statement “Reunification with North Korea is unnecessary if the two can peacefully coexist without war,” marking a steady rise from 43.1 percent in 2016.
The percentage of people who agree with the statement “Just because the two Koreas are one people does not mean they must form a single country” has continued to increase, from 35 percent in 2017 to 47 percent this year.
Only about a quarter of the respondents disagreed with the statement.
“This is because a nationalist unification view is no longer convincing to the young generation,” KINU said.
Two out of 5 respondents agreed with the statement “Even if the two Koreas do not form a single country, if their people can travel across the inter-Korean border and cooperate on political and economic matters, such state could be considered unification.”
This statement is a simplified explanation of a European Union-like confederation, in which member countries remain sovereign states with their own militaries and the coordinating power of the confederation does not override the sovereignty of the states, according to KINU.
The South has traditionally supported forming a confederation with the North as a step toward gradual unification, while the North has backed a federation, where federal law is above state law.
By cohort, the preference for a confederation was more common among the younger generation.
Overall, South Koreans think unification would benefit the nation as a whole, but would not be of much benefit to them as individuals.
Sixty-five percent said it would benefit the nation, and 31 percent said it would benefit them personally.
Regarding South Korea-US relations, while 90 percent said the alliance was necessary and 85 percent said the stationing of US troops in the South was necessary now, the percentage of people who think US Forces Korea will be needed even after unification went down to 41.6 percent this year, from 54.1 percent last year.
Those who said the USFK will not be necessary after unification accounted for 58.4 percent, up from 46 percent in 2019.
As for the US demand that Seoul pay more for the upkeep of US troops in the South, over 95 percent said South Korea should continue to pay what it does now (69.6 percent) or reduce its payments in proportion to what the US pays (26.9 percent).
By Kim So-hyun (email@example.com