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Not Exactly Lips And Teeth

12 Mar

Figure 1: Most Salient Issues to the Korean PublicWith all the political and diplomatic excitement on the Korean peninsula  – the election and inauguration of South Korea’s first woman president, South Korea’s successful Nara-1 launch, North Korea’s successful Unha-3 launch, North Korea’s third nuclear test, two bizarre “celebrity” junkets to Pyongyang, the annual ROK-U.S. Key Resolve/Foal Eagle exercises, North Korea’s renunciation of the 1953 Armistice – (catch my breath) one wouldn’t be wrong if she thought the subject itself of North Korea’s actions and its future prospects provoked South Koreans to yawn. What does excite South Koreans is fear of American retrenchment and homegrown nukes.

South Korean public opinion on North Korea is actually quite ambivalent.

Public reaction has been muted because South-North relations have not been an important issue to South Koreans over the past year (Figure 1). Instead, the focus has been on South Korea’s considerable domestic challenges—household debt, wealth disparity, and economic growth have topped the bill. A failed missile launch in April produced only a slight bump in the perceived importance of South-North relations and a successful launch in December produced no bump whatsoever. Following the February 2013 nuclear test there was a 7 percentage point bump from January, but recent history suggests that this will not last.

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