SEOUL — In less than a week since North Korea claimed to have tested a nuclear weapon, public opinion in the South has turned sharply against a South Korean policy of engaging the enemy in the belief it will eventually bring peace on the divided peninsula.
A JoongAng newspaper poll, several days after the reported nuclear test Monday, found 78 percent of respondents thought South Korea should revise its policy, and 65 percent said South Korea should develop nuclear weapons to protect itself.
Protesters have held nightly candlelight vigils, and some have burned North Korean flags.
“We worry about a war because the regime is so thoughtless,” librarian Lee Young-sook said at one rally. “The South Korean people are being held hostage.”
North Korea faces United Nations sanctions, approved yesterday in a unanimous vote of the 15-nation Security Council.
South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun has conceded the “sunshine” policy of engagement with North Korea is under threat because of the nuclear test.
A Korea Opinion Institute poll found approval for the opposition Grand National Party (GNP) at 40.1 percent, compared with an approval rating of 11.4 percent for Mr. Roh’s ruling Uri Party.
The GNP has demanded that industrial and tourism projects with the North be shut down.
Even the left-wing newspaper Hankyoreh titled its editorial on the nuclear test “Shock and poor judgment.”
The architect of South Korea’s engagement with the North, former President Kim Dae-jung, remained unmoved by the test.
In a speech at a university Wednesday, he advised the United States to enter bilateral talks with North Korea, blamed American hard-liners for the crisis and said engagement must continue.
Andrei Lankov, a North Korean specialist at Seoul’s Kookmin University, said a key weather vane of North-South ties points to North Korea’s Mount Kumgang (Diamond Mountain), a resort for South Korean tourists inside the communist state.
“If the government stops the tours to Mount Kumgang, that will really send a message that they are serious,” Mr. Lankov said.
The resort, run by South Korean conglomerate Hyundai Asan, has welcomed more than 1 million tourists from the South since 1998, earning the impoverished North hundreds of millions of dollars in foreign currency.
Business has continued at the engagement policy’s second flagship project, the joint North-South industrial complex at Kaesong, just inside North Korea.
Fifteen South Korean companies are established in the Seoul-funded project, but South Korea halted expansion after the North tested missiles on July 4 and, on Wednesday, it indefinitely halted further land sales at the site.
This article is based in part on wire service reports.