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Poll indicates alliance with U.S. losing favor among S. Koreans

By JEREMY KIRK | STARS AND STRIPES Published: July 18, 2003

SEOUL — South Korean elementary school students voted President Bush the world’s biggest villian, while North Korea’s Kim Jong Il ranked second, in a recent survey.

The survey, said Yonsei University Professor Lee Chung Min, shows that a negative impression is being passed to younger South Koreans, one that contradicts some positives of the two countries’ evolving alliance.

If the alliance “does not change, it will pose new problems,” said Lee, who cited the survey in his presentation Tuesday at a seminar of the Asia Foundation and the Korea Institute for Defense Analyses.

Lee was one of numerous experts who gathered for the seminar, which assessed the 50-year military and economic alliance between the United States and South Korea.

Experts agree the continued presence of U.S. troops after the end of the Korean War provided the security backbone for South Korea’s economic development. But the threat from its estranged neighbor, North Korea, has remained constant, said U.S. Ambassador Thomas C. Hubbard.

The United States offered North Korea a “bold new approach” last summer that would have helped the struggling North Korean people in exchange for the dismantling of its nuclear program, Hubbard said. But North Korea made it impossible for the United States to pursue that approach, he said.

“Our firm objective is to resolve this problem peacefully through diplomacy,” Hubbard said. “We have no intention of attacking North Korea.”

Some experts say the U.S.-South Korea relationship has been one-sided, more of a client-patron relationship, said Park Kun-young, a professor at the Catholic University of Korea. Through the years, the interests of South Korea have been subordinated in U.S. global strategies, he said.

Park cited the Nixon doctrine, which resulted in the withdrawal of some 20,000 of 62,000 soldiers stationed in South Korea in the early 1970s. Even the most recent moves toward force reduction, which include plans announced last month to move 2nd Infantry Division forces south of the Han River, are unilateral moves that could give the impression the United States might attack North Korea, Park alleged.

South Korea has reaped benefits from U.S. soldiers’ presence, such as joint military training and doctrine that helped mature South Korean forces and the country’s defense industry, said Kim Chang-su, director of U.S. studies for the Korea Institute for Defense Analyses, a government-funded think tank.

But questions remain over the U.S. role during military regimes that ruled South Korea in the 1960s through the 1980s and the crushing of a pro-democracy movement in Kwangju in 1980, Kim said.

“We cannot deny there was some downside to the alliance,” Kim said.

However, there is no shame in having alliances with strong powers, said Lee Yun-sook, a National Assemblywoman on the National Defense Committee. The current war in Iraq would not have been possible without the United States garnering allies, she said.

“It would be an overassessment of our capabilities to say we are going to achieve self-reliance in defense,” she said.


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