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`Obama Effect` Sooths Liberal Groups in Korea

Posted November. 18, 2009 08:51,   


Korean liberals have had a much milder response to the Seoul visit of U.S. President Barack Obama than toward those of his predecessors.

The Allied Conference of Civic Groups Opposing Redeployment of Troops to Afghanistan will hold today an anti-war candlelight vigil opposing the redeployment of Korean troops to Afghanistan and urging a stop to the U.S.-led occupation of the war-torn country in downtown Seoul.

The conference is a gathering of 60 civic groups, including the People’s Solidarity for Participatory Democracy and Korean Solidarity for Social Progress.

A member of the people’s solidarity said, “We will demand that the U.S. not pressure Korea to send troops to Afghanistan. We are not completely against Obama’s visit to Korea.”

Yet it is unlikely that the civic groups will hold a protest against Obama while he visits Seoul, in stark contrast to the fierce demonstration they held when his predecessor, George W. Bush, came in August last year.

Analysts say the launch of the Obama administration has dramatically increased Korean affection for the U.S. Anti-American sentiment, which peaked with rallies against U.S. beef imports in spring last year, has significantly gone down.

In July, the Washington-based Pew Research Center surveyed 702 adults aged 18 and older in 25 countries, and found that 78 percent of Koreans sees the U.S. favorably, the third highest following Kenya, the birth country of Obama’s father, and Nigeria.

Korean affection for the U.S. had steadily gone down from 58 percent in 2000 to 52 percent in 2002 and further to 46 percent in 2003.

Two reasons explain the improvement in the Korean view of the U.S. First is the election of Obama as president itself. Koreans have recognized the power of an American democracy that elected its first African-American chief executive.

This is a reflection of international support for Obama’s smart diplomacy of using conversation and cooperation. In 2002, opposition mounted against the Bush administration’s use of unilateral diplomacy.

Whenever incidents such as the deaths of two high school girls at the hands of the U.S. military, anti-U.S. sentiment erupted. Liberal groups in Korea, however, have not ignored the meaning of Obama’s election and his policies.

University of North Korean Studies professor Gu Gap-woo said, “Perceptions are changing in a way that there is no reason to hate the U.S. if U.S. policies are reasonable. Liberal groups have also raised expectations of the Obama administration’s policies.”

The second reason, according to experts, is liberal groups this time simply lack a reason to trigger anti-American sentiment or cause and logical grounds for attacks, but their deep-rooted hatred of the U.S. remains.

The left-leaning Korean group National Liberty, whose existence is based on anti-Americanism, has apparently lost a clear target with the launch of the Obama administration.

“Anti-American sentiment that sees the U.S. as a persecutor in modern Korean history has not gone away, though the Korean impression of the U.S. has grown more positive,” Seoul National University professor Jeon Sang-in said.

“A friendly environment should be created among Koreans and Americans through public diplomacy that goes beyond elite-oriented Korea-U.S. exchanges.”

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