By Shaun Tandon (AFP) – Oct 15, 2012
WASHINGTON — Strong majorities in the United States and South Korea support the nations' alliance amid regional tensions, but few are interested in more robust action against mutual enemy North Korea, polls said.
South Koreans also overwhelmingly favor the re-election of President Barack Obama, who has developed a close relationship with their President Lee Myung-Bak after friction between their two predecessors.
Separate polls found wide backing for the six-decade alliance, including maintaining US troops on the peninsula, despite strong patriotic sentiment in South Korea and fading enthusiasm in the United States for a global role.
In the United States, 60 percent of the public supported keeping bases in South Korea.
But most Americans said the United States should work with others, not fight alone, in response to a potential North Korean attack and only 17 percent put a high priority on regime change in the authoritarian state.
"Despite declining support for sustaining US military budgets and presence overseas, there is still strong support for a US military presence in South Korea," said Scott Snyder, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations.
"What's really fascinating and I think maybe surprising... is that while three-fifths of Americans support a long-term US presence on the Korean peninsula, there's a very interesting set of questions about US intervention -- US use of that military presence," he said.
The findings were part of a broader poll on US attitudes released last month by the Chicago Council on Foreign Affairs. The poll of 1,877 adults found that Americans for the first time attached more importance to Asia than Europe.
A study of 1,000 South Korean adults found that 95 percent of South Koreans wanted to maintain the alliance with the United States, although the virtual unanimity slipped when asked more specifically about troop levels.
While the relationship is rooted in the Korean War, 84 percent said they wanted to maintain the US alliance even if North and South Korea are unified, according to the survey by the Asan Institute for Policy Studies.
"What you can guess -- the reason why is they are seeing the rise of China, particularly in a military way, becoming a big threat," Kim Jiyoon, a research fellow at the institute, said as she presented the findings in Washington.
The survey found that 73 percent of South Koreans saw China as a potential military threat, far more than the 51 percent of Americans who said likewise.
China has seen growing tensions with neighboring nations in recent years and is the main supporter of North Korea.
Many analysts believe China is partly motivated out of a desire to keep the North as a buffer state rather than see a unified, US-allied Korea on its border.
In line with polls in Europe, some 82 percent of South Koreans said they had a favorable view of Obama, compared with 28 percent who said the same of Mitt Romney, his Republican rival in November 6 elections, the survey said.
Lee, who took a harder line on North Korea after taking office in 2008 from Roh Moo-Hyun, has developed a close relationship with Obama.
Roh had an often tense relationship with former US president George W. Bush, including over how to handle North Korea.
Despite areas of consensus, the surveys found a sharp gap in perceptions of South Korea's former colonial ruler Japan.
Some 62 percent of South Koreans said they viewed Japan unfavorably, while more than two-thirds of Americans saw Japan positively.
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