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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.