At the press conference after the U.S.-DPRK summit, U.S. President Donald Trump mentioned reducing the U.S. military presence in South Korea in the future. After the joint survey conducted by the Yomiuri Shimbun and the Hankook Ilbo in Japan and South Korea, U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis visited the two countries and announced that USFK levels will be maintained.
In the joint public opinion poll, 65% of the Japanese (previous poll: 66%) and 67% of the South Korean (65%) respondents said that the U.S. Forces stationed in South Korea should be “maintained at the current level,” making this the most frequently given response in both countries. The percentage of pollees giving this response to this question has remained essentially unchanged since the question started to be asked in 2016. In the recent poll, the percentage saying the USFK should be “reduced” rose in each country, with 23% of Japanese (11%) and 27% of South Koreans (20%) giving that response. Some 5% of Japanese (15%) and 5% of South Koreans (10%) said the U.S. military presence should be “expanded.”
In Japan, there was no major difference in responses to this question based on cabinet support/nonsupport or political party supported. In South Korea, however, there was a difference depending on political orientation. More than 70% of conservatives and moderates said that USFK should be “maintained at the current level” while 56% of progressives said the forces should be “maintained at the current level” and 41% said they should be “reduced.”
Asked which countries they feel pose a military threat (multiple responses permitted), 77% of Japanese said “North Korea.” In the 2017 poll, the figure was 88% as North Korea was launching missiles and engaging in other militarily provocative actions [around that time]. In the current poll, however, the figure returned to the level found in and before 2016. Some 66% of Japanese pollees selected “China” (69%) and 56% said “Russia” (56%).
In South Korea, the percentage selecting “North Korea” dropped dramatically to 49% from 77% last year. “China” edged out “North Korea” to become the most frequently given response at 50% (45%). From the 2011 poll when the question was first asked, “North Korea” was always around 80%, making it the top response. The recent poll, however, reveals a major change in perspective with the thawing of tensions between North and South Korea.