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China, South Korea need more cultural exchanges to avoid lasting split

Yet perhaps more worrying than frictions at the government level is the hardening of public sentiment on both sides. Polling reveals rising mutual antipathy between the South Korean and Chinese publics, stoking concerns about the long-term trajectory of one of Asia’s most consequential bilateral relationships.

This hostility appears to be reciprocated on the Chinese side. A Tsinghua University study in 2023 showed just 14 per cent of Chinese respondents held positive views of South Korea.

The data points to a brewing crisis of sentiment between the peoples of China and South Korea that could prove even more vexing for policymakers than the current official discord.

The number of Chinese language-learners in South Korea has also dropped dramatically. While factors such as declining university language enrolments play a role, the decrease nonetheless deprives South Korea of a critical bridge for deeper mutual understanding.

While difficult to quantify, this deluge of antagonistic rhetoric swirling across digital spheres appears to be aggravating societal distrust – a toxic spiral with no clear off-ramp.

Amid the mounting strains between Beijing and Seoul, preserving robust people-to-people ties will be crucial for preventing a permanent break in China-South Korea relations. An absence of direct exposure can enable the entrenchment of hostile narratives and stereotypes.

As government-level tensions rise, constructive avenues for direct interaction such as tourism, academic collaboration and cultural outreach lay vital groundwork for more positive long-term perceptions and greater trust between people. Moreover, future generations of policymakers with first-hand cultural experiences could serve as invaluable voices, preventing