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Survey: Most South Koreans don't believe North will denuclearize

More than 90% of South Koreans expressed doubt that North Korea would give up its nuclear weapons, according to an annual survey by the Korean Institute of National Unification. File Photo by Jeon Heon-kyun/EPA-EFE
More than 90% of South Koreans expressed doubt that North Korea would give up its nuclear weapons, according to an annual survey by the Korean Institute of National Unification. File Photo by Jeon Heon-kyun/EPA-EFE

SEOUL, July 16 (UPI) -- More than 9 in 10 South Koreans don't believe Pyongyang is willing to give up its nuclear weapons, according to a new survey by government-run think tank Korea Institute for National Unification.

The annual survey, released Thursday, saw a dramatic increase in the percentage of respondents who believed that North Korea was unwilling to denuclearize over the past five years, from 71.3% in 2016 to 90.7% in April.

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Only 14.3% of the 1,003 respondents age 18 and over said they trusted North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, down from a high of 33.5% in April 2019, after a period of diplomatic rapprochement with Pyongyang.

At the same time, less than half of South Koreans said they were worried by the nuclear threat posed by the North, with 42.5% saying they were "somewhat" or "very" concerned. Only 18.6% felt the nuclear threat had an impact on their lives.

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Nuclear negotiations with Pyongyang have been at a standstill since a February 2019 summit between Kim and then-U.S. President Donald Trump failed to produce an agreement.

The administration of U.S. President Joe Biden has signaled its willingness to meet with North Korea as part of what officials call a "calibrated and practical approach" toward the nuclear-armed state.

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Some 69% of the KINU survey's respondents said they thought Biden should hold a summit with Kim, but most wanted there to be conditions that North Korea either made concessions or gave up its nuclear arsenal entirely.

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Inter-Korean relations have also been at a low ebb since Pyongyang cut off all communications channels with Seoul and destroyed a shared liaison office in June last year.

However, North Korea has maintained a relatively low profile as it struggles with the economic fallout of closed borders due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Pyongyang has not conducted any nuclear or long-range missile tests since 2017, although it did launch a pair of short-range ballistic missiles in March, in violation of United Nations sanctions.

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The KINU survey found that South Koreans generally aren't paying much attention to North Korea, especially younger ones. Overall, 61% of respondents described themselves as "disinterested" in North Korea, with that figure climbing to 74.1% among those born after 1991.

The younger generation also showed very little interest in pursuing unification with North Korea, with just 12.4% in favor, as opposed to 71.4% calling for peaceful coexistence.

Survey respondents also showed strong support for the alliance between the United States and South Korea, with 93.8% saying it would remain necessary in the future, and 90.3% saying the U.S. military is needed in Korea.

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