According to this year’s Pew Global attitudes report, anti-Americanism has declined significantly in South Korea, from 46% favorable in 2003 to 58% favorable last year. Pew says that the “U.S. image has improved dramatically” there, and while this result suggests a significant and positive change, Pew’s enthusiasm is overstated, because Pew is comparing two extremes that may overstate the actual situation.
Pew’s first point of comparison is 2003, when anti-Americanism was at its fevered peak, when no South Korean politician of either party dared to say a kind word about us. Since then, Pew incomprehensibly skipped 2004, 2005, and 2006, which makes longer-term trends and anomolous data harder to spot.
Pew’s second point of comparison also turns out to be problematic — between April 9th and April 24th, 2007. Under the best of circumstances, South Korean public opinion is notoriously volatile, but that period immediately follows the signing of a free trade agreement with the U.S. in which South Korea got almost everything it wanted. It also came just as North Korea failed to meet its first disarmament deadlines under Agreed Framework 2.0. Given all of the sacrificed U.S. interests that those two developments represented, you’d certainly hope we’d bought a few breaks for ourselves. It’s not fanciful to assume that America’s “favorables” got a bounce of 5-15% from them.
The statistical fine print doesn’t inspire much confidence, either. The sample size was just 718 people, and the margin of error was 4%. If I’m right about my “bounce” theory, any longer-term improvement in America’s image that could be measured today would likely be at or near the statistical margin of error. If our favorables have barely budged since the ugly days of 2003, that’s depressing. It also suggests that we could be one traffic accident away from going back to that.
Yet Pew’s result is generally consistent with my personal observations, and a limited amount of statistical evidence indicates a short-to-mid-term trend of declining anti-Americanism at this instant. The intensity of anti-Americanism seems to have declined, but its latent popularity probably hasn’t changed much. The survey also had more troubling indicators, however. A very high 79% of South Koreans still said that U.S. policy considers their interests “not much” or “not at all,” suggesting a fairly deep alienation from our policies (such as the protection of their country’s very existence and all of the collateral economic benefits of that?). Just 24% of South Koreans supported the war on terror, a result right between those of Pakistan (20%) and Bangladesh (28%). And over the long term, there’s plenty of reason for pessimism. Older Koreans tend to be much more pro-American than their children and grandchildren. The ones who like us the most tend to be those who won’t be around as long.
Interestingly, South Koreans tend to have unusually unfavorable views of both Bush and Hu Jintao. One of the brighter spots in this survey is that South Koreans have grown much more concerned about China’s increasing power, as they should be. South Koreans still have a favorable view of China, by 52% to 42%, but that’s a significant decline since 2002 when it was 66% favorable to 31% unfavorable. Korea also looks less favorably on China than the United States or Canada, and significantly less favorable than most other Asian nations, with the exception of Japan (67% unfavorable). By a staggering 89% to 8%, South Koreans see China’s growing military power as a “bad thing,” and by 60% to 36%, they see its growing economic power as a bad thing.
I have compiled other statistics on anti-Americanism in South Korea here.
* In North Korea, a man is executed for cutting down “slogan trees,” a fraudulent propaganda creation said to contain the inscriptions of Kim Il Sung’s guerrilla band. In fact, Kim’s brief career as a guerrilla was spent almost entirely in Manchuria before he was driven across the Soviet border and became an officer in Stalin’s army. The slogans on those trees probably weren’t even authored until Stalin left his mark on North Korea ideology. On the other hand, it might be possible to make some lovely step-chests from them.
For a serious test of the value of these talks with North Korea, here’s something worth tabling while Kim Jong Il recovers from the exertions of switching off Yongbyon (again). Why not demand that Kim open up North Korea’s Camp 22 to a snap visit by the international press? That would be far more informative than this endless flow of merry briefings from Chris Hill. It would also be a bargaining chip far more in keeping with our own democratic principles than the rotten old habit of trying to buy peace by sending tribute — which we call aid — to Kim’s regime.
She links here, too (thanks), which is flattering, and also telling as to how little information there is out there about North Korea’s camps. It’s the greatest cause that almost no one ever took up.
* William Kristol at the Weekly Standard believes the defeatists in this city are in retreat. I wish it were so, but if you watch the Iraq story carefully, you will see that our enemies — particularly those backed by Iran — are preparing to launch a new offensive just before Petraeus reports. Our only hope to forestall this is through carefully targeted raids at Mahdi commanders and cell leaders to disrupt their plans as much as possible. So it has come to this: enemies of the United States coordinate their attacks with those of our domestic political opposition, and the two work in unspoken symbiosis. They are not in retreat. They are simply waiting for a better opportunity to strike. We could defeat them, but the question is whether bin Laden was right about us.