Anti-Chinese sentiments have been growing among South Koreans, with some 58 per cent of respondents calling China "close to evil".
This is a stark contrast to the opposing view, with only 4.5 per cent of the 1,000 respondents saying China was "close to good".
The findings came from a survey by polling company, Hankook Research, and Korean news magazine SisaIN, and reported by New York Times.
The anti-Chinese sentiment has grown in 2021 to the point that China had replaced Japan as the most unfavourable country by South Koreans.
Favour US more
According to the same survey, South Koreans responded that they favoured the United States over China six to one.
The poll was done ahead of South Korea's presidential elections slated to take place in 2022.
Younger generation holds more unfavourable view of China
NYT further reported that out of 14 countries surveyed by Pew Research Centre in 2020, the younger generation of South Koreans were the only ones that held more unfavourable views towards China as compared to the other generations.
“Until now, hating Japan was such a part of Korean national identity," chief analyst at Hankook Research, Jeong Han-wool said.
“In our survey, people in their 40s and older still disliked Japan more than China. But those in their 20s and 30s, the generation who will lead South Korea in the coming decades, tipped the scale against China,” he added, as quoted by NYT.
For the younger South Koreans, NYT reported that they saw Chinese foreign policy under Xi Jinping's authoritarianism as a threat to free society.
They have been critical of China's handling of Covid-19, its expansionism in the South China Sea, as well as fine-dust pollution from China that regularly blankets Seoul.
A political scientist from Seoul's Kyung Hee University Ahn Byong-Jin, told NYT that as the younger generation of South Koreans grow up in a liberal environment, they hold a kind of antagonism towards illiberal countries.
“They have grown up in a liberal environment the earlier generations built through sweat and blood, so they hold an inherent antipathy toward illiberal countries,” he said, and further added that “they root for politicians who criticise China.”
Why South Koreans are now anti-China?
The anti-Chinese sentiments among South Koreans were not as prevalent previously.
VOA reported that according to a survey by Pew Research Centre, in 2015, only 37 per cent of South Koreans had a negative view of China.
The figure has since more than double to 75 per cent in 2020.
The report added that the relationship between China and South Korea began to deteriorated in 2017, when South Korea installed the U.S. missile defense system, Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD), to counter threats by North Korea.
China objected to the installation as its radar can see deep into China.
China responded with economic retaliations.
Among the retaliatory measures, VOA said China has stopped tour groups from going on trips to South Korea, stores belonging to Lotte, a South Korean conglomerate which provided land for THAAD, were shut down, and K-pop tours were cancelled and have been unable to hold concerts in China despite their massive fan base.
The bilateral dispute cost South Korea billions of dollars, with analysts pointing to the installation of THAAD as a turning point for South Korean perceptions of China, VOA added.
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