South Koreans now dislike China more than Japan : Survey
Anti-Chinese sentiment among South Koreans has increased, with about 58 percent of respondents describing China as "almost evil."
This is in stark contrast to the opposite opinion, with only 4.5 percent of the 1,000 respondents describing China as "almost good."
The findings come from a survey conducted by polling firm Hankook Research and Korean news magazine SisaIN, reported by The New York Times.
Anti-Chinese sentiment has increased so much in 2021 that China has replaced Japan as the country least appreciated by South Koreans.
In the same poll, South Koreans said they favored the United States over China by six to one.
The poll was conducted ahead of South Korea's presidential election, which is set for 2022.
Younger generation has more negative attitude toward China
The NYT further reports that of the 14 countries surveyed by the Pew Research Centre in 2020, the younger generation of South Koreans were the only ones to take a more negative stance toward China than other generations.
"Until now, hatred of Japan has been a part of Korean national identity," said Hankook Research principal analyst Jeong Han-wool.
"In our survey, people 40 and older still disliked Japan more than China. But those in their 20s and 30s, the generation that will lead South Korea in the coming decades, tilted the scales against China," he added, as quoted by the NYT.
The NYT reports that younger South Koreans view Chinese foreign policy under Xi Jinping as a threat to a free society.
They criticize China's handling of Covid-19, its expansionist ambitions in the South China Sea, and the particulate pollution emanating from China that regularly blankets Seoul.
Political scientist Ahn Byong-Jin of Kyung Hee University in Seoul told the NYT that the younger generation of South Koreans, raised in a liberal environment, has developed a kind of antagonism toward illiberal countries.
"They grew up in a liberal environment that previous generations built with sweat and blood, so they harbor an innate antipathy toward illiberal countries," he said, adding that they support politicians who criticize China.
Why are South Koreans anti-Chinese now?
Anti-Chinese sentiments among South Koreans were not as widespread in the past.
VOA reported that only 37 percent of South Koreans had negative attitudes toward China, according to a 2015 Pew Research Centre survey.
That number has more than doubled since then, reaching 75 percent in 2020.
The report added that relations between China and South Korea began to deteriorate in 2017 when South Korea installed the U.S. Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) missile defense system to counter threats from North Korea.
China objected to the installation because its radar can see deep into China.
China responded with economic retaliation.
According to VOA, China has, among other things, prevented tour groups from traveling to South Korea; closed businesses of Lotte, a South Korean conglomerate that provided the land for THAAD; and canceled K-pop tours, preventing them from giving concerts in China despite their large fan base.
The bilateral dispute has cost South Korea billions of dollars, with analysts calling the installation of THAAD a turning point for South Korean perceptions of China, VOA added.