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


GIGA Focus | Asia | Number 05 | July 2023 | ISSN 1862-359X

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.

Policy Implications
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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