Leftist South Korean President’s Approval Drops as Distaste with North Korea Thaw Grows

The Associated Press
AP/Lee Jin-man

Multiple polls of South Korean citizens taken this week have found a drop in approval ratings for President Moon Jae-in, who has risked his legacy on a scheme to include North Korea in next month’s Winter Olympics that may come at the price of some South Korean athletes’ lifelong dream.

North and South Korea have agreed to march in the Olympics Opening Ceremony together and field a joint hockey team, meaning some South Korea athletes will be barred from participating in the Olympics to make room for arguably less capable athletes from the North. The excluded players “have earned their spots and they think they deserve to go to the Olympics,” South Korea’s female hockey team coach Sarah Murray said.

Moon visited the distraught team on Wednesday and told them that “showing unity and hope may be more important than winning,” according to Reuters.

The South Korean newspaper Joongang Ilbo reported Saturday local time on multiple polls finding the same trends regarding Moon’s popularity. A Gallup Kore poll found a 6-percent drop in approval in the past week down to 67 percent. A survey by the agency Realmeter found the same approval rating, a 3.5-percent drop in one week.

Joongang emphasizes that the drop in approval in the polls were larger among young voters, and that recent polls on reunification with the north found an increased reticence among young South Koreans to see themselves as part of a greater whole with North Korea.

Korea Institute for National Unification research director Park Ju-hwa told the newspaper that their recent surveys show “that unification based on homogenous identity no longer works,” as young Koreans do not see North Korea as part of their country.

This rejection of the communist north has made itself more apparent in public discourse as Moon has imposed athletic unification with Kim Jong-un’s rogue state. On Friday, Reuters collected comments from locals in Seoul and on social media that showed a reluctance to cooperate with the North and distrust in Moon’s plans to bring the North back into the global community without demanding concessions on human rights and military belligerence.

“North Korea was all about firing missiles last year, but suddenly they want to come to the South for the Olympics? Who gets to decide that?,” Reuters quotes Kim Joo-hee, a 24-year-old translator, as saying.

On social media, Reuters found commenters complaining that “the Pyeongchang Olympics have already become the Pyongyang Olympics” and that the “unification flag” the countries will use in an attempt to not offend each other when marching into the Opening Ceremony is “not my goddamned flag.”

In an editorial published Friday, the Chosun Ilbo, a South Korean newspaper, made similar complaints against the united front at the Olympics.

“How can we let the Olympics become a propaganda opportunity for the world’s most oppressive state?” the editorial asks. “The North’s Masikryong Ski Resort, where the South has offered to send budding skiers to train, was built using child labor.”

Chosun Ilbo‘s editors contend that Kim is astutely using the Olympics stunt to get in the good graces of the international left and distract from a U.S.-led global effort to cripple his economy and force Kim to abide by international law. North Korea, they argue, “wants to flaunt its nuclear power and try to steal the show, with a strong message that it has no intention of giving up its nukes, Olympics or no Olympics.”

“It seems that few believe that the Olympics will serve as an opportunity for North Korea to change its attitude and give up its missile and nuclear programs. And what is Seoul doing?” the piece concluded.

Evidence on North Korean state propaganda networks indicates that Kim is attempting to use the Olympics to convince North Koreans that a unified Korean under the Kim dynasty is imminent. Chosun highlights a propaganda clip called “Reunification is by Korean nation itself” [sic] and television coverage that does not mention that South Korea is hosting the Winter Olympics as signs that Moon’s grand gesture has not triggered a change in attitude in Pyongyang.

North Korea is also demanding that American assets withdraw from South Korea and that Seoul end its military cooperation with the country. “It looks as though North Korea is already presenting a laundry list of demands for agreeing to take part,” Chosun, whose coverage tends to skew conservative, laments.

Follow Frances Martel on Facebook and Twitter.

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