Thursday, May 9, 2013

Anti-American countries can become pro-American. Here’s how South Korea did it.

South Koreans shout slogans welcoming U.S. President Barack Obama to Seoul in 2009. (Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images) 

When it comes to global public opinion, the United States can be polarizing: Often, you either love us or you hate us. But although we in the U.S. might perceive certain countries as intrinsically pro-American or anti-American, the truth is more complicated and attitudes can be more fluid.

A great example of this is South Korea, where opinion toward the U.S. has transformed in only a decade, from skeptically apathetic to warmly supportive. South Korea today is one of the most pro-American countries in the world; 77 percent say they have confidence in President Obama’s leadership, almost double Americans’ own 45 percent approval rating.

As South Korean President Park Geun-hye visits Obama today, it’s worth reflecting on the lessons of South Korea’s turn back to the United States.

As of 2002, when most of the world reported sky-high favorability ratings for the U.S. – it was still soon after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks – South Koreans held some of the least favorable views of the U.S. in the world, according to Pew’s data on global opinion. Only Middle Eastern countries (and Argentina) liked the U.S. less. The next year, in 2003, South Koreans were more likely to hold an unfavorable view of the U.S. than favorable.

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