Rising Anti-China Sentiment Supports South Korea's Alignment with the US

Abstract

The US–South Korea summit in April 2023 showed South Korea's willingness to further align with the US amid increasing US-China tensions. Statistical analyses show that the increased anti-Chinese sentiment of recent years strongly correlates with public support for alignment with the US. These findings have implications regarding the popularity of the Yoon Suk Yeol administration's foreign policy. Polls such as Pew Global Attitudes data published in 2020 show that sentiment towards China has worsened since the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) incident of 2016 and COVID-19’s onset in 2020. Political orientation played a role in explaining varied attitudes towards China after the THAAD crisis; however, this role decreased after COVID-19's onset in early 2020. Analysis of a poll published by Sinophone Borderlands in 2022 shows there is a strong association between negative public attitudes towards China and increased alignment with the US. These trends affect the Yoon administration's foreign policy, which has signalled its further alignment with the US amid rising US-China tensions. In December 2022, South Korea announced a new Indo-Pacific strategy that marks a stronger alignment with the US. The emphasis is on a commitment to a rules-based international order, while not completely excluding China. Given the high levels of anti-Chinese sentiment, it is likely that the Yoon administration will experience increased public support for its foreign policy. As a liberal democracy that is increasingly signalling its desire to play a more active role in supporting a rules-based international order, South Korea offers a lot of room for collaboration with Germany and the EU. With its emphasis on "de-risking" relations with China on the rise, the EU can further benefit from collaboration with South Korea in the areas of trade, security, and technology

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