Generation Gaps Seen in Perception of Foreign Countries

      June 26, 2010 07:45

      The Korean War was not only a national tragedy but also part of an international conflict that pitted the U.S. on South Korea's side against the Soviet Union and China. A survey shows a clear gap in perceptions of those countries between the war and post-war generation.

      Overall some 71.6 percent of respondents chose the U.S. as the foreign country they feel most friendly toward. China came in second, but its approval rating stood at a mere 6.4 percent.

      The U.S. also topped the list at 71.9 percent as the nation respondents believe will give strategic help in South Korea's efforts for reunification and security. China once again came second at 14 percent in this category.

      But the generations clearly have different views when it comes to more particular issues, with those in their 30s and 40s more skeptical of the continued U.S. military presence in South Korea.

      Some 15.3 percent of those in their 30s and 21.4 percent of those in their 40s said they believe that China will help South Korea in the future. But a mere 5.4 percent in their 60s agreed.

      A similar pattern was also evident in responses to the question "How long should the U.S. forces stay?" Some 34.3 percent in their 40s said the U.S. troops should withdraw gradually even before reunification. And 28.2 percent in their 20s and 28.9 percent in their 30s agreed. By contrast, only 16.1 percent of respondents in their 50s and 8.1 percent in their 60s approved of the U.S. troops' pullout before reunification.

      It appears that the gap in perceptions is due to different historical experiences. Those over 50 either experienced the war or lived through the Cold-War era. They witnessed the positive role the U.S. played in the process of South Korea's postwar reconstruction and industrialization.

      But those in their 30s and 40s had quite different experiences. Those in their 40s watched the Gwangju Democratization Movement in 1980 and radical students' seizure of the USIS Library in Seoul in 1985. Those in their 30s witnessed the disintegration of the Soviet Union and the advent of a post-Cold-War era in 1991, South Korea's establishment of diplomatic relations with Russia in 1990 and China in 1992, and an unauthorized visit to North Korea by a student activist in 1989.

      As it turns out, those in their 30s and 40s have a little stronger antipathy toward the U.S. than older generations, but a little friendlier feelings toward former communist countries.

      By Jeon Yong-joo, a professor of political science at Dongeui University

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