Numbers, Facts and Trends Shaping Your World

International Public Concern About North Korea

The six-party talks on North Korea – involving the United States, South Korea, North Korea, China, Japan and Russia – slated to begin Aug. 27 in Beijing reflect global public concern that the regime in Pyongyang poses a serious threat to Asian stability. But U.S. efforts to defuse the North Korean crisis take place against a backdrop of rising anti-Americanism in South Korea and occur at a time when fewer South Koreans show concern about the threat posed by their northern neighbor than do Americans, Australians and many Europeans.

In the wake of the Iraq war, North Korea has taken center stage as a threat to peace and stability in the minds of many people around the world according to results from the Pew Global Attitudes Survey conducted in May.

More than three-in-four (77%) Americans see the current government in North Korea as a great or moderate danger to Asia. U.S. public concern has risen by 12 percentage points since November 2002. Americans are not alone in worrying about Pyongyang. Eight-in-ten (79%) Australians and 77% of Germans think North Korean actions threaten Asia. But fewer South Koreans agree – 69%.

The Bush administration’s efforts to use the current multilateral negotiations to end the North Korean nuclear program are complicated by rising antipathy toward the United States and U.S. policies in South Korea.

Half of South Koreans surveyed in May 2003 by the Pew Global Attitudes Survey held an unfavorable view of the United States, up six percentage points from July 2002. Anti-Americanism has risen particularly sharply among the young. A year ago, half (51%) of the 18-29 year olds surveyed had a somewhat unfavorable or very unfavorable opinion of the United States. This year, seven-in-ten (71%) young South Koreans expressed such views.

In most nations, critics of the United States say their sentiments reflect opposition to President George W. Bush, more than a general problem with America. But in South Korea, 72% of those who hold unfavorable views of the United States express general hostility toward America that goes beyond criticisms of the president.

U.S. efforts in the six-party negotiations on North Korea may be further complicated by widespread sentiment in South Korea that Washington acts unilaterally in foreign policy. Three-in-four South Koreans (76%) believe that the United States does not take into account South Korean interests when making international policy decisions. Such criticism of U.S. unilateralism is shared by publics in Russia (71%) and Japan (59% in 2002) – two other nations that are parties to the Beijing talks.

South Korean disapproval of the conduct of U.S. foreign policy reflects public opposition to particular American international initiatives, including the war on terrorism and the Bush Administration’s policy of preemptive military strikes against U.S. foes. Seven-in-ten South Koreans (71%) oppose U.S.-led efforts to fight terrorism. More than half (55%) of South Koreans also say that it is rarely or never justified to use military force against countries that may seriously threaten South Korea, but have not attacked it.

These results are drawn from polls conducted by the Pew Global Attitudes Project, a series of worldwide public opinion surveys conducted over the past 18 months. The project has issued two major reports, “What the World Thinks in 2002” – based upon 38,000 interviews in 44 nations – and “Views of a Changing World, June 2003” – based on 16,000 interviews in 20 nations and the Palestinian Authority. Sample sizes for the 2003 poll were as follows: U.S. 1,201; South Korea 525. Full details about the surveys, and the project more generally, are available at

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