SEOUL - Fresh back from China, South Korean President Park Geun-hye saw her approval rating top 50 per cent for the first time since April of last year, with her efforts to strengthen ties with her country's giant neighbour earning her a measure of respect at home.
Park had already been making a comeback in the polls thanks to last week's agreement with North Korea to ease tensions along their heavily fortified border. On Friday, Gallup Korea reported that her approval rating had climbed to 54 per cent, up 5 percentage points from last week. This marks her first claim to majority support since after the tragic sinking of the ferry Sewol. Park's disapproval rating fell 6 points to 38 per cent.
Respondents cited Park's policy toward North Korea and on national security as a reason for supporting her, followed by her diplomacy. She received a conspicuously warm reception in China from President Xi Jinping, who treated her to a special lunch. During her Chinese visit, their governments signed 33 agreements on economic matters, including on promoting trade and investment. All this gives the impression of cozier relations between Beijing and Seoul at a time when China's treatment of ally North Korea has grown cold.
The North has been "cast out" in a "new era" of friendly relations between China and South Korea, South Korean daily Kukmin Ilbo wrote Friday, reporting on the Victory Day military parade in Beijing. While Park enjoyed pride of place next to Xi in the reviewing stand, North Korean Workers' Party apparatchik Choe Ryong Hae sat far away. Choe could not be accorded the same courtesy as a head of state like Park. Still, the difference in treatment was stark.
While in China, Park ceremonially reopened a building in Shanghai that housed Korea's government in exile during Japanese colonial rule over the peninsula. She did not mention Japan by name in her speech there but did say in an interview with the People's Daily that South Korea and China had similar histories in that they both fell victim to Japanese imperialist aggression.
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