China Overtakes Japan to Become One of South Korea's Least Liked Countries: Poll

Comfort girl
A statue of a girl that represents the sexual victims by the Japanese military is seen during a weekly anti-Japan rally in front of Japanese embassy in Seoul, South Korea, December 30, 2015. REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji

For decades, South Korea and Japan have had a sour relationship. Ever since World War II, during a period of aggression in which Japan colonized parts of South Korea and committed wartime atrocities, South Korea has despised the island nation.

However, according to an Asan Institute for Political Studies survey released on Monday, hatred of China is so great among South Koreans at the moment that China has overtaken Japan in these rankings to become the second most disliked country after North Korea. (The most disliked country is North Korea.) Out of a possible 10 points, with 10 being the most friendly, China's favorability has plummeted to 3.21 from 5 points in 2016. Japan's remains unchanged at 3.33.

The move in public opinion comes after a row over the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) on South Korea's border, a U.S. army anti-ballistics missile system that can shoot down short, medium, and long range missiles fired by North Korea. China frequently says that THAAD poses a danger to Beijing's security situation.

Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi said in a statement reported by Reuters in 2016 : "This move goes beyond the defensive needs of the relevant countries. If it is deployed it will directly impact China's and Russia's respective strategic security. Not only does it threaten the resolution of the peninsula nuclear issue, it quite possibly could pour oil on the fire of an already tense situation, and even destroy strategic equilibrium on the peninsula."

This February, China urged a reduction in the number of troops —both U.S. and South Korean—to scale down the military exercises known as Operation Foal Eagle.

Each year the U.S. and South Korea practice war games as part of defense preparations against a North Korean attack, but China strongly recommended in March that the war games are scaled down to avoid escalated tension in the region. North Korea becomes more agitated during the war games and this year threatened 'merciless' attacks unless the military desists from such maneuvers, which take place close to North Korea's borders.

China has criticized South Korea in the past for allowing the U.S. to set up a missile system, and warned that Seoul is threatening bilateral relationships by allowing the U.S. to host the missile deployment system. Additionally, the Chinese government and media started a campaign in February to boycott South Korean goods and tourism, specifically Lotte Holdings which hasn't gone down well.

Historically, however, South Korea has had a terrible relationship with Japan. The two countries have had a dispute over South Korea's comfort girls for decades, following claims that Japan imported women against their will from South Korea to provide entertainment for Japanese soldiers. In 2015, Japan and South Korea decided to finally resolve the comfort girls issue — Japan would provide compensation and offer a formal apology. Tensions issue flared again in December 2016 when a statue of a comfort girl was removed from outside the Japanese embassy in Busan.