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Identity Politics and Policy Disputes in U.S.-Korea Relations

Political Science Quarterly

Anti-American sentiments and slogans swept South Korea during its 2002 presidential campaign. These movements were not new for the country, but for the first time, they had a crucial impact on its alliance with the United States. A second North Korean nuclear stand-off had just occurred, and candidate Roh Moo Hyunʼs vows to continue engagement with the North, despite the crisis, were clearly at odds with the George W. Bush administrationʼs desire to isolate Pyongyang. In the past, such a threat would have led the South to consolidate its alliance with the United States for reasons of national security. Also preceding the 2002 election, a massive wave of anti-American sentiment had erupted in response to the handling of a U.S. military training accident that killed two Korean schoolgirls: Catholic priests went on a hunger strike, and tens of thousands of Koreans—not just activists but middle-class adults—protested against the United States.

1. According to a 2003 Pew survey, aside from certain Arab states, France, and Russia, South Korea was identified as one of the most anti-American countries.

2. A 2004 RAND report likewise showed that many South Koreansʼ previously positive views of the United States had become increasingly unfavorable.

3. As new progressive, nationalist policy elites sought to reassess the U.S. role in inter-Korean relations and unification, the rationale for the alliance was being questioned and became a subject of intense debate within the South.