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Xi Jinping loses ground in popularity poll among S. Koreans amid THAAD row

Fewer South Koreans said they think positively of Chinese President Xi Jinping this month compared to early July, a local public opinion poll showed Thursday. The result has been attributed to the growing diplomatic row between South Korea and China over the planned deployment of an advanced U.S. missile shield in the country.

The survey conducted by the Asan Institute for Policy Studies from Aug. 1-3 showed the Chinese president received 4.47 points on the 0-10 scale designed to gauge the favorability of foreign heads of state.

In the same poll last month, Xi received 4.85 and the corresponding figure for June stood at 4.81, the report by Asan researchers Kang Chung-ku and Woo Jung-yeop, said.

The poll result is based on telephone interviews of 1,000 South Korean adults aged 19 or older.

The dwindling popularity reflects fraying ties between Seoul and Beijing over the U.S-led plan to deploy a Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense system in South Korea by the end of 2017.

China has made clear its objection to the deployment which it said severely impairs Beijing's security interests in the region.

South Korea and the U.S., however, counter the claim, saying the deployment is purely defensive against North Korea's growing nuclear and missile threats.

As the feud worsened, several entertainment events by South Korean stars were called off in China while the Chinese government shut down a Chinese visa agency serving South Koreans seeking multi-entry Chinese visas earlier this month.

"It seems that the public opinion (toward Xi) worsened in the face of China's continued attacks on the South Korean government's THAAD deployment decision," the researchers said.

The poll also showed United States Democratic presidential front runner Hillary Clinton is far more favored by South Koreans than her Republican rival Donald Trump.

The poll put Clinton’s popularity at 5.94 points while Trump received just 1.87 points.

The main reason behind South Koreans' preference for Clinton appears to lie in their "discomfort" with Trump's negative comments on the U.S.' free trade agreement with South Korea and the allies' defense cost sharing, the institute said of the poll results.

"Media coverage of Trump stressing only America's interests in an isolationist perspective cast Clinton in a more positive light,” he institute said.

President Barack Obama's high approval rating, currently at around 54 percent, also contributed to the favorable results for Clinton, who belongs to the same Democratic Party as the president, the findings claimed.

Still, local public opinion could change in the run-up to the U.S. presidential election because the two presidential competitors have yet to come up with detailed policies on Korean issues, the institute said.

The latest poll, meanwhile, put the favorability of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un at 1 point. Japan's prime minister was rated at a slightly higher 1.8 points. (Yonhap)