GUEST WORDS - (Editor’s Note: Los Angeles is home to the largest Korean population, outside of Korea, in the world. South Korean President Park Geun-hye visited both Washington DC and Los Angeles this week. It seemed an appropriate time for this Max Fisher column.) When it comes to global public opinion, the United States can be polarizing: Often, you either love us or you hate us.
But although we in the U.S. might perceive certain countries as intrinsically pro-American or anti-American, the truth is more complicated and attitudes can be more fluid.
A great example of this is South Korea, where opinion toward the U.S. has transformed in only a decade, from skeptically apathetic to warmly supportive. South Korea today is one of the most pro-American countries in the world; 77 percent say they have confidence in President Obama’s leadership, almost double Americans’ own 45 percent approval rating.
As South Korean President Park Geun-hye visits Obama today, it’s worth reflecting on the lessons of South Korea’s turn back to the United States.
As of 2002, when most of the world reported sky-high favorability ratings for the U.S. – it was still soon after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks – South Koreans held some of the least favorable views of the U.S. in the world, according to Pew’s data on global opinion. Only Middle Eastern countries (and Argentina) liked the U.S. less. The next year, in 2003, South Koreans were more likely to hold an unfavorable view of the U.S. than favorable.
In 10 years’ time, though, South Korean public opinion has swung dramatically in favor of the United States. According to new data released by Pew, an astounding 78 percent of South Koreans say they hold a favorable view of the U.S. That’s the highest pro-American approval rating that Pew has recorded in the past year. (Kenya may rate higher, though; it reported 85 percent approval in 2011 and has not been polled by Pew since.)
So what happened? The U.S. and its policies certainly played a role, particularly by keeping tens of thousands of American troops based on South Korean soil. But those troops are still there and South Korean opinion has changed dramatically. That appears to have happened in large part due to social forces within South Korea itself. (Read the rest of Max Fisher’s Washington Post analysis here.)
Vol 11 Issue 38
Pub: May 10, 2013