In news that may shock many outside the Korean Peninsula, a recent survey found that, were conflict to erupt between Pyongyang and Tokyo, the majority of South Koreans would side with their neighbor to the North.
The survey, titled “The Situation in Northeast Asia and South Koreans’ Perception,” found that 45.5 percent of respondents would support North Korea, while just 15.1 percent would support Japan, while 39.4 were undecided.
The survey, which was carried out by a state-sponsored think tank led by research fellow Lee Sang Sin, involved 1,000 participants and was conducted between 2018 and October 2019.
The findings were presented on Wednesday at the Korea Institute for National Unification’s 11th annual Peace Forum.
Lee said the results were “not so surprising” to those who have followed regional geopolitics for any length of time, particularly the warming of relations between the two Koreas, adding that political affiliation did not appear to impact respondents’ answers.
Both Koreas were occupied by Japan for much of the first half of the 20th century. Only after the end of World War II and the beginning of the Cold War did the Korean Peninsula become divided.
The three-year Korean War has never officially ended. On Tuesday, however, 71 members of South Korea’s National Assembly put forward a resolution calling for an official end to hostilities between the North and South.
Supreme leader Kim Jong-un has attended three peace summits with South Korean President Moon Jae-in and has met with US President Donald Trump three times, including a historic meeting at the Korean border. Kim has also met with Chinese President Xi Jinping as well as Russian President Vladimir Putin to cap off a period of historic warming in relations for the notoriously hermetic nation.
“For South Koreans, North Korea is like a troublemaker in the family, a black sheep,” Lee told Newsweek.
“We hate and despise North Korea, but at the same time, we don’t want to see North Korea beaten down by other countries.”
“Similarly, whenever South Korea has a territorial dispute about Dokdo (what the Japanese call Takeshima) with Japan, North Korea has sided with South Korea,” he added.
The Koreas refer to the maritime region as the East Sea, while Japan claims it is the Sea of Japan. The feud over the disputed maritime zone escalated recently after a joint Russian-Chinese patrol was accused of crossing the boundary.
Tokyo and Seoul scrambled fighter jets in response and claimed exclusivity in handling the situation. The row eventually led to newly imposed trade sanctions on South Korea, which subsequently left an intelligence-sharing pact.
“This is one of the worst phases in the history of our relationship since the normalization of relations,” one Japanese Foreign Ministry official said.
Meanwhile, North Korea has continued to launch missile tests in a bid to restart peace negotiations with the South and the US, in a move which has been harshly condemned by Tokyo.
Regional tensions escalated further on Thursday as North Korea made several insulting remarks about Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe over his recent remarks on Pyongyang’s weapons tests.
“Japanese Prime Minister Abe, who is now making such a fuss over our super-large multiple rocket launcher test-fire as if a nuclear warhead had fallen on Japanese soil, is a moron,” diplomat Song Il-Ho said, according to North Korea’s KCNA news agency.
“Abe, who has been making ill-advised remarks about our legitimate self-defense measures by recklessly wagging his tongue… should not even dream of crossing the Pyongyang threshold ever.”