Against Backdrop of North Korean Sabre Rattling, Neighbours Lose Patience

Recent weeks have seen a flaring of tensions on the Korean Peninsula—and while deciphering the intentions of the secretive North is notoriously difficult, analysts have variously painted Kim Jong Un’s bellicose rhetoric as an attempt to boost his standing among influential military players, a reaction to joint US-South Korean military exercises, or a continuation of previous attempts to garner aid or legitimacy through forcing regional partners back to the negotiating table.
GlobeScan’s polling shows that well before the most recent outbreak of tensions, the global public had a low opinion of North Korea. Globally, just 18 percent of respondents in 2012 had a “mainly positive” view of the country, against 49 percent who had a “mainly negative” impression. Of the countries that make up the six-party talks with the North, Japan has the lowest proportion of citizens with a “mainly positive” view of North Korea (1%), followed by South Korea (6%), the USA (10%), Russia (25%), and China (37%).
The relatively large pool of sympathy in China reflects that government’s support for a regime whose existence aids China’s geopolitical strategy. However, this figure has fallen since 2008, when almost half (48%) of Chinese respondents said that they had a “mainly positive” view of North Korea. This suggests that Chinese patience may not be infinite.
Perhaps surprisingly, in many countries the number of people with a positive view of North Korea rose between 2011 and 2012, suggesting the North may have benefitted from a degree of sympathy in the wake of Kim Jong Il’s death in December 2011, and early comments by Kim Jong Un that were seen by some as relatively liberalising. The proportion of people with a mainly positive view of North Korea rose strongly in Canada, Egypt, Kenya, Mexico, Nigeria, Pakistan, and Russia.
It will be interesting to see how these figure evolve in our 2013 updates, soon to be released in conjunction with the BBC World Service. Will recent events lead to an ebbing of already scarce public sympathy for North Korea?
This post was written by former GlobeScan Research Director, Sam Mountford.