It has been a topsy-turvy week on the Korean Peninsula thanks to the on-again, off-again historic summit between the US president and North Korean leader.
But despite the tumultuous week, South Koreans remain hopeful for a successful summit between President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, a new poll suggests.
As of this week, both Trump and Kim are enjoying their highest approval ratings ever in South Korea, according to a new Gallup Korea poll released Friday.
Trump last week scrapped the highly anticipated June 12 summit, blaming North Koreans for their “open hostility”. But on Friday, after meeting with North Korea’s Kim Yong-chol, he announced the Sinapore-based talks were back on.
Speaking after the meeting, Trump said: “We are going to deal and we are really going to start a process. Remember what I say, we will see what we will see,” adding: “I look forward to the day I can take the sanctions off North Korea.”
Meanwhile, North and South Korean officials are working to increase communication between the two countries and improve their relations. On Friday, they held high-level talks to discuss improving inter-Korean relations and agreed to open a liaison office as soon as possible.
South Koreans’ attitude toward Trump and Kim vastly improved compared to previous polls. One year ago, just 9 per cent of South Koreans approved of the new US president, largely because they didn’t know what to expect from the political newcomer, analysts say. And just 10 per cent of South Koreans approved of Kim just two months ago.
Now, 32 per cent of South Koreans approve of Trump, who gained eight of those points in the past two months. And Kim gained 21 percentage points for a 31 per cent approval rating since March, according to the Gallup Korea poll conducted May 29 to 31.
Their disapproval ratings have plummeted by double digits in just two months.
Kim’s improved approval rating was expected. Photos and videos of Kim and South Korean President Moon Jae-in from their first inter-Korean summit in April telling jokes, hugging and even holding hands as they crossed the line that separates the Koreas went viral and spawned endless memes on social media.
But the more remarkable shift in South Koreans’ attitude is their improved affinity toward Trump, who occupies a unique space in South Korean public opinion.
He is gaining popularity among both conservatives and liberals over an issue that is so deeply personal on the Korean Peninsula: relations with North Korea.
“This is very rare in South Korea: For Trump to gain popularity from conservatives and liberals,” said Kang Won-taek, a polling expert and political science professor at Seoul National University.
“When he first took office, he was the least popular American president here. But he has totally changed the situation.”
South Korean conservatives advocate a tough approach toward North Korea through sanctions and pressure. Trump’s “maximum pressure” campaign ratcheting up sanctions and pressure to push North Korea to the negotiating table resonates with them.
Liberals in South Korea seek more engagement and dialogue with North Korea and are hopeful of Trump’s pursuit of a meeting with Kim – despite the brief hiccup last week when he cancelled it.
The Gallup Korea survey shows Trump is most popular among conservatives older than 50. The sustained support among conservatives is notable at a time when Trump is pursuing a meeting with Kim, which is supported by liberals, Kang said.
“I was surprised to see the approval rating for Trump has increased. That’s how much hope there is in South Korea for the US-North Korean summit,” Kang said.
“There is hope that things will be different this time with Trump and Kim. They see both sides showing serious intentions to meet and agree on denuclearisation and security guarantee, rather than just gestures by the two men.”
Still, South Koreans are maintaining a healthy scepticism toward North Korea – a sign that despite the increasingly positive attitudes toward Kim, it will take time for the South Korean public to build trust toward the North, according to Gallup Korea’s analysis.
Moreover, South Koreans’ attitude toward Kim is likely to change based on the progress of inter-Korean talks and the result of a potential summit between North Korea and the United States, according to the analysis.
Fewer South Koreans now believe that North Korea will follow through with pursuing peace on the Korean Peninsula or getting rid of their nuclear weapons, according to the survey. Of those surveyed, 49 per cent were confident North Korea will keep its word – a decrease from 58 per cent in early May.
The Gallup Korea poll surveyed 1,002 adults over 19 by phone and reported a 95 per cent confidence interval with a 3.1 percentage point margin of error.
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