- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 18, 2002

SEOUL South Korea's anti-anti-Americans are starting to find their voice.
Miss Sun, a 27-year-old travel guide and part-time student from Seoul, acknowledges she's worried that a recent spate of protest rallies targeting the United States will give Americans the wrong idea about sentiment in her country.
Miss Sun, who asked to be identified only by her last name, said she will vote for conservative Grand National Party (GNP) candidate Lee Hoi-chang in tomorrow's closely contested presidential election, "although that's something I keep secret from my friends."
Pollsters put Mr. Lee and Roh Moo-hyun of the ruling Millennium Democratic Party (MDP) in a tight race to succeed President Kim Dae-jung.
The polling follows a wave of national protests against the United States, triggered by the acquittal of two U.S. soldiers stationed here by an American military court in the deaths of two Korean teenage girls who were crushed beneath the soldiers' armored vehicle in June.
The two leading candidates planned last-minute campaign blitzes in this capital city in the bid for a five-year term in power.
"I think Roh and his followers have been too radical in how they attack the United States," Miss Sun said.
Mr. Roh has taken a more skeptical line on U.S. policy, especially what MDP officials say is a too-confrontational stance with communist North Korea on this divided peninsula.
The protests were supposed to boost the MDP's fortunes, but a rising number of voices here worry that things have gone too far.
Mr. Kim said in a Cabinet meeting last week that "sound criticism of U.S. policies can be accepted, but indiscriminate anti-Americanism is not helpful to our national interest."
The country's five largest business organizations, including the Korea Chamber of Commerce and Industry, and the Korean International Trade Association issued a joint statement Monday saying anti-American sentiments could be bad for the economy.
If South Koreans do not moderate their criticisms, the country could face retaliatory boycotts and new barriers to South Korean exports to the United States, the joint statement said.
"Moreover, the escalation of anti-American movements on the Korean streets would scare away potential foreign investors from the United States and other Western countries," the business groups said.
The Korean daily Chosun Ilbo was one of a number of newspapers decrying rabid anti-Americanism.
"A poisonous atmosphere has been spreading like a fad throughout the basis of this country's society," the paper said in an editorial.
In Pyo-moon, a high school teaching assistant and language instructor, rejects out of hand the idea advanced by some here that North Korea and the United States present equivalent threats to the South.
"It's a ridiculous question," Mr. In said. "The North has missiles pointing at us that it pays for by starving its own people. The United States does nothing like that."
Even Mr. Roh has tried to distance himself from some of the more extreme anti-American attacks.
"People's rightful demands must be heard, but a leader must control his emotions, step back a little and find a realistic and rational way to make changes," Mr. Roh said.
A strain of anti-American feeling is not new to South Korea, which relies on 37,000 U.S. troops here to help fend off the North but has balked at its image as junior partner in the alliance.
But there is little question that recent anti-American rallies have been different from past, often violent protests led almost exclusively by radical leftist student groups.
The hundreds of thousands of South Koreans who have turned out in the recent rallies inspired by the case of the two schoolgirls have included housewives, prominent artists and religious leaders, and labor groups.
The protests have been largely peaceful, but a U.S. military officer was assaulted by knife-wielding Korean youths Sunday evening. He said later that his attackers cursed the United States and demanded that American forces leave the peninsula.
A recent multinational survey by the Pew Research Center found that South Koreans had the least-favorable attitudes toward the United States of all the Asian nations polled.
But even here the Pew survey found that 53 percent of South Koreans in 2002 had a positive image of the United States, down just five percentage points from the 2000 poll.
Mr. Lee has appealed to conservative traditional voters who prize the long-standing relationship with the United States. But even he has joined his main rivals in the campaign in saying he would seek revisions to the 1966 accord governing the U.S. military presence in South Korea if elected.
Democratic Labor Party (DLP) candidate Kwon Young-ghil, a leftist former labor leader and a potential wild card in tomorrow's vote, has taken the strongest anti-U.S. line among the three major candidates.
His platform calls for a peace treaty with North Korea and the start of negotiations for the "earliest possible withdrawal of U.S. troops from South Korea."
Yoon Youngmo, international-relations adviser for the DLP, said in an interview yesterday that "opposing American policies on the ground here is not the same thing as anti-Americanism."
Despite the new voices urging a more moderate tone, Mr. Yoon said he believes that whoever wins tomorrow will have to strike a tougher line with Washington.
"If the new president tries to patch things up and pretend all is well, he will have trouble, for he will be going back on the words he said during the campaign," Mr. Yoon said.

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