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Majority of S. Koreans back Kaesong industrial park closure: poll

2016/02/14 21:00

SEOUL, Feb. 14 (Yonhap) -- More than half of South Koreans favor the government's decision to shut down an inter-Korean industrial complex in response to recent North Korean provocations, a poll conducted by Yonhap News Agency and KBS showed Sunday.

In the nationwide phone survey on 1,013 adults aged 19 or older, 54.4 percent of the respondents said South Korea did well to close down the Kaesong Industrial Complex, on the heels of North Korea's nuclear test and long-range rocket launch.

In contrast, 41.2 percent said the Kaesong complex should have remained in operation. The remaining 4.4 percent answered they have no idea or did not respond to the question.

Pyongyang expelled all 124 South Korean firms from the factory park in the North Korean border city of Kaesong on Thursday, two days after Seoul announced its own decision to at least temporarily shut down the industrial complex.

Opened in 2004 following the first Seoul-Pyongyang summit four years earlier, the Kaesong factory park is the last remaining symbol of inter-Korean reconciliation. With some 54,000 North Korean workers on payrolls before the shutdown, it has often been considered a cash cow for the impoverished North.

Earlier Sunday, Unification Minister Hong Yong-pyo, Seoul's point man on inter-Korean affairs, said in a television interview that North Korea would first have to display "sincere willingness" to assuage security concerns among South Koreans before any talk of normalizing Kaesong's operations.

Yonhap, the nation's key wire service, and state broadcaster KBS commissioned pollster Korea Research Center to conduct the survey Thursday and Friday, covering a wide range of current issues. The margin of error is plus or minus 3.1 percentage points.

Among other issues, 48.9 percent of the polled said they were in favor of hardline policies on North Korea, but nearly as many people -- 47.8 percent -- said they supported a more moderate approach.

Of the 48.9 percent who backed tough North Korean policies, nearly 31 percent said more financial sanctions should be imposed, and 18 percent said South Korea should also consider taking military measures to remove North Korea's nuclear facilities.

Of those who supported a more moderate approach, 40.1 percent said the two Koreas should resolve the tension through dialogue while 7.7 percent said Seoul should recognize Pyongyang's nuclear weapons possession.

South Koreans weren't nearly as divided on the issue of the potential deployment of an advanced U.S. missile defense system, the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD), in the country.

The poll showed that 67.1 percent were in favor of THAAD's presence in South Korea to better counter North Korean threats. On Feb. 7, Seoul and Washington agreed to begin negotiations for the THAAD deployment on South Korean soil, as part of measures to upgrade the two allies' missile defense posture.

As for how to respond to the North's nuclear weapons threats, 52.5 percent of those polled said their country should develop its own nuclear weapons or consider redeploying U.S. tactical nuclear weapons to the country. In contrast, 41.1 percent said the nation should hold fast to the 1991 "Joint Declaration for a Non-nuclear Korean Peninsula" despite the North's provocations.

In agreement signed between then South Korean President Roh Tae-woo and North Korean leader Kim Il-sung, the two sides pledged not to test, produce, receive, possess, store, deploy, or use nuclear weapons and not to possess facilities for nuclear reprocessing and uranium enrichment.

Under the agreement, the U.S. pulled all surface- and sea-launched short-range tactical nuclear weapons out of its army bases in South Korea and President Roh also announced principles for ensuring the peace and non-nuclear status of the peninsula.

The survey also showed 46 percent approved of President Park Geun-hye's performance, compared to 44.1 percent at the end of last year. On the flip side, 48.7 percent said they disapproved of the president's job, down slightly from 49.1 percent last December.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon was the most popular presidential contender with 28.3 percent of support, with Moon Jae-in, former chairman of the opposition Minjoo Party, a distant second at 17.9 percent.

Ban, who will conclude his second U.N. term at the end of this year, has repeatedly said he's not interested in South Korean politics.