South Korean presidential candidate Ahn Cheol-soo (centre) has surged in the polls in recent weeks, setting the stage for a close election next month. Photo: AFP

Despite polling below 10% just last month, South Korean presidential candidate Ahn Cheol-soo has surged in the polls in recent weeks, taking the lead in several surveys last weekend.

The dramatic swing of South Korean voter sentiment comes in part due to China’s attempt to pressure South Korea to remove the THAAD missile defense system.

China’s actions have badly misfired, as voter sentiment, initially opposed to the deployment of THAAD, has swiftly reacted to Beijing’s pressure by supporting Ahn’s promise to keep the missile system.

Beijing will now probably have to wait at least until after the elections next month to stop its counterproductive demonizing of South Korean businesses and tourism. But if China’s goal was for Korea to remove THAAD, it looks as if the damage is already done, and it is there to stay.

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