SEOUL: The row between Seoul and Beijing over the deployment of a US missile defence system has seen China overtake even former coloniser Japan in the ranking of South Koreans' least favoured countries, a survey shows.
Japan has consistently been Southerners' most disliked country after North Korea, mainly due to disputes over Tokyo's wartime atrocities including the use of up to 200,000 Korean women as sexual slaves for Japanese troops.
But now South Korea and the US have begun deploying the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system to guard against missile threats from the nuclear-armed North, infuriating China, which sees it as compromising its own capabilities.
Beijing launched a series of measure against the South seen as economic retaliation, forcing dozens of South Korean retail stores in China to shut their doors and banning Chinese tour groups from visiting. China's rating in an opinion poll by the Asan Institute for Policy Studies slumped from 4.31 in January to 3.21 in March, on a 0-10 scale, with 10 representing the most favorable.
Japan's number also fell amid a diplomatic row over the "comfort women" issue, from 3.56 to 3.33.
A drop in the Chinese figure was expected given Beijing's response to THAAD but the "sharp decline" was surprising, Asan said in a statement today.
"Even more surprising is that Koreans are now more favourable toward Japan (3.33) than China (3.21)," it said, noting Japan had consistently been Koreans' least favoured country after the North.
The survey also showed the ratings of US President Donald Trump, Chinese President Xi Jinping and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe all declining, but Xi's falling the most, plunging from 4.25 in January to 3.01 in March.
"The only good news for President Xi was that his rating remained higher than Prime Minister Abe's," Asan said.
The survey, of 1000 adults carried out from March 6-8, also showed increasing support for THAAD, with 50.6 per cent in favour, up from 46.3 per cent in November, with opposition falling from 45.7 per cent to 37.9 per cent.