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South Korea-Chapter 1 - Historical Setting

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South Korea Index


Panghwasuru Pavilion, port of Suwon Castle

A SMALL COUNTRY, approximately the size of Britain, Korea is located on a peninsula that protrudes southward from the northeastern corner of the Asian continent. It is an old country, whose people evolved as one nation from the seventh century until 1945, when the country was divided by the United States and the Soviet Union at the end of World War II. The ensuing cold war created two Korean governments, one in the north known as the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK), and another in the south known as the Republic of Korea (ROK). The two Koreas engaged in a bitter war between 1950 and 1953 and remained divided as of 1990, even though the two governments began talk to each other in 1971.

South Korea and North Korea took distinctly different paths of development after they were divided. By 1990 North Korea had emerged as a staunch communist society, while South Korea was evolving into a liberal democracy after many years of military dictatorship. The two societies, however, shared a common tradition and culture.

Data as of June 1990

BackgroundAn independent Korean state or collection of states has existed almost continuously for several millennia. Between its initial unification in the 7th century - from three predecessor Korean states - until the 20th century, Korea existed as a single independent country. In 1905, following the Russo-Japanese War, Korea became a protectorate of imperial Japan, and in 1910 it was annexed as a colony. Korea regained its independence following Japan's surrender to the United States in 1945. After World War II, a Republic of Korea (ROK) was set up in the southern half of the Korean Peninsula while a Communist-style government was installed in the north (the DPRK). During the Korean War (1950-53), US troops and UN forces fought alongside soldiers from the ROK to defend South Korea from DPRK attacks supported by China and the Soviet Union. An armistice was signed in 1953, splitting the peninsula along a demilitarized zone at about the 38th parallel. Thereafter, South Korea achieved rapid economic growth with per capita income rising to roughly 14 times the level of North Korea. In 1993, KIM Young-sam became South Korea's first civilian president following 32 years of military rule. South Korea today is a fully functioning modern democracy. In June 2000, a historic first North-South summit took place between the South's President KIM Dae-jung and the North's leader KIM Jong Il. In October 2007, a second North-South summit took place between the South's President ROH Moo-hyun and the North Korean leader. Harsh rhetoric and unwillingness by North Korea to engage with President LEE Myung-bak following his February 2008 inauguration has strained inter-Korean relations.
LocationEastern Asia, southern half of the Korean Peninsula bordering the Sea of Japan and the Yellow Sea
Area(sq km)total: 99,720 sq km
land: 96,920 sq km
water: 2,800 sq km
Geographic coordinates37 00 N, 127 30 E
Land boundaries(km)total: 238 km
border countries: North Korea 238 km

Coastline(km)2,413 km

Climatetemperate, with rainfall heavier in summer than winter

Elevation extremes(m)lowest point: Sea of Japan 0 m
highest point: Halla-san 1,950 m
Natural resourcescoal, tungsten, graphite, molybdenum, lead, hydropower potential
Land use(%)arable land: 16.58%
permanent crops: 2.01%
other: 81.41% (2005)

Irrigated land(sq km)8,780 sq km (2003)
Total renewable water resources(cu km)69.7 cu km (1999)
Freshwater withdrawal (domestic/industrial/agricultural)total: 18.59 cu km/yr (36%/16%/48%)
per capita: 389 cu m/yr (2000)
Natural hazardsoccasional typhoons bring high winds and floods; low-level seismic activity common in southwest
Environment - current issuesair pollution in large cities; acid rain; water pollution from the discharge of sewage and industrial effluents; drift net fishing
Environment - international agreementsparty to: Antarctic-Environmental Protocol, Antarctic-Marine Living Resources, Antarctic Treaty, Biodiversity, Climate Change, Climate Change-Kyoto Protocol, Desertification, Endangered Species, Environmental Modification, Hazardous Wastes, Law of the Sea, Marine Dumping, Ozone Layer Protection, Ship Pollution, Tropical Timber 83, Tropical Timber 94, Wetlands, Whaling
signed, but not ratified: none of the selected agreements
Geography - notestrategic location on Korea Strait
Population48,508,972 (July 2009 est.)
Age structure(%)0-14 years: 16.8% (male 4,278,581/female 3,887,516)
15-64 years: 72.3% (male 17,897,053/female 17,196,840)
65 years and over: 10.8% (male 2,104,589/female 3,144,393) (2009 est.)
Median age(years)total: 37.3 years
male: 36 years
female: 38.5 years (2009 est.)
Population growth rate(%)0.266% (2009 est.)
Birth rate(births/1,000 population)8.93 births/1,000 population (2009 est.)
Death rate(deaths/1,000 population)5.94 deaths/1,000 population (July 2009 est.)

Net migration rate(migrant(s)/1,000 population)-0.33 migrant(s)/1,000 population (2009 est.)
Urbanization(%)urban population: 81% of total population (2008)
rate of urbanization: 0.6% annual rate of change (2005-10 est.)
Sex ratio(male(s)/female)at birth: 1.07 male(s)/female
under 15 years: 1.1 male(s)/female
15-64 years: 1.04 male(s)/female
65 years and over: 0.67 male(s)/female
total population: 1 male(s)/female (2009 est.)
Infant mortality rate(deaths/1,000 live births)total: 4.26 deaths/1,000 live births
male: 4.49 deaths/1,000 live births
female: 4.02 deaths/1,000 live births (2009 est.)

Life expectancy at birth(years)total population: 78.72 years
male: 75.45 years
female: 82.22 years (2009 est.)

Total fertility rate(children born/woman)1.21 children born/woman (2009 est.)
Nationalitynoun: Korean(s)
adjective: Korean
Ethnic groups(%)homogeneous (except for about 20,000 Chinese)

Religions(%)Christian 26.3% (Protestant 19.7%, Roman Catholic 6.6%), Buddhist 23.2%, other or unknown 1.3%, none 49.3% (1995 census)
Languages(%)Korean, English widely taught in junior high and high school

Country nameconventional long form: Republic of Korea
conventional short form: South Korea
local long form: Taehan-min'guk
local short form: Han'guk
abbreviation: ROK
Government typerepublic
Capitalname: Seoul
geographic coordinates: 37 33 N, 126 59 E
time difference: UTC+9 (14 hours ahead of Washington, DC during Standard Time)
Administrative divisions9 provinces (do, singular and plural) and 7 metropolitan cities (gwangyoksi, singular and plural)
provinces: Cheju-do, Cholla-bukto (North Cholla), Cholla-namdo (South Cholla), Ch'ungch'ong-bukto (North Ch'ungch'ong), Ch'ungch'ong-namdo (South Ch'ungch'ong), Kangwon-do, Kyonggi-do, Kyongsang-bukto (North Kyongsang), Kyongsang-namdo (South Kyongsang)
metropolitan cities: Inch'on-gwangyoksi, Kwangju-gwangyoksi, Pusan-gwangyoksi, Soul-t'ukpyolsi, Taegu-gwangyoksi, Taejon-gwangyoksi, Ulsan-gwangyoksi
Constitution17 July 1948; note - amended or rewritten nine times; current constitution approved on 29 October 1987

Legal systemcombines elements of continental European civil law systems, Anglo-American law, and Chinese classical thought; has not accepted compulsory ICJ jurisdiction

Suffrage19 years of age; universal
Executive branchchief of state: President LEE Myung-bak (since 25 February 2008)
head of government: Prime Minister CHUNG Un-chan (since 30 September 2009)
cabinet: State Council appointed by the president on the prime minister's recommendation
elections: president elected by popular vote for a single five-year term; election last held 19 December 2007 (next to be held in December 2012); prime minister appointed by president with consent of National Assembly
election results: LEE Myung-bak elected president on 19 December 2007; percent of vote - LEE Myung-bak (GNP) 48.7%; CHUNG Dong-young (UNDP) 26.1%); LEE Hoi-chang (independent) 15.1; others 10.1%

Legislative branchunicameral National Assembly or Kukhoe (299 seats; 245 members elected in single-seat constituencies, 54 elected by proportional representation; to serve four-year terms)
elections: last held 9 April 2008 (next to be held in April 2012)
election results: percent of vote by party - NA; seats by party - GNP 172, UDP 83, LFP 20, Pro-Park Alliance 8, DLP 5, CKP 1, independents 9

Judicial branchSupreme Court (justices appointed by the president with consent of National Assembly); Constitutional Court (justices appointed by the president based partly on nominations by National Assembly and Chief Justice of the court)

Political pressure groups and leadersFederation of Korean Industries; Federation of Korean Trade Unions; Korean Confederation of Trade Unions; Korean National Council of Churches; Korean Traders Association; Korean Veterans' Association; National Council of Labor Unions; National Democratic Alliance of Korea; National Federation of Farmers' Associations; National Federation of Student Associations
International organization participationADB, AfDB (nonregional member), APEC, APT, ARF, ASEAN (dialogue partner), Australia Group, BIS, CP, EAS, EBRD, FAO, G-20, IADB, IAEA, IBRD, ICAO, ICC, ICCt, ICRM, IDA, IEA, IFAD, IFC, IFRCS, IHO, ILO, IMF, IMO, IMSO, Interpol, IOC, IOM, IPU, ISO, ITSO, ITU, ITUC, LAIA, MIGA, MINURSO, NEA, NSG, OAS (observer), OECD, OPCW, OSCE (partner), Paris Club (associate), PCA, PIF (partner), SAARC (observer), UN, UNCTAD, UNESCO, UNHCR, UNIDO, UNIFIL, UNMIL, UNMIS, UNMOGIP, UNOCI, UNWTO, UPU, WCL, WCO, WFTU, WHO, WIPO, WMO, WTO, ZC
Flag descriptionwhite with a red (top) and blue yin-yang symbol in the center; there is a different black trigram from the ancient I Ching (Book of Changes) in each corner of the white field

Economy - overviewSince the 1960s, South Korea has achieved an incredible record of growth and integration into the high-tech modern world economy. Four decades ago, GDP per capita was comparable with levels in the poorer countries of Africa and Asia. In 2004, South Korea joined the trillion dollar club of world economies. In 2008, its GDP per capita was roughly the same as that of the Czech Republic and New Zealand. Initially, this success was achieved by a system of close government/business ties including directed credit, import restrictions, sponsorship of specific industries, and a strong labor effort. The government promoted the import of raw materials and technology at the expense of consumer goods and encouraged savings and investment over consumption. The Asian financial crisis of 1997-98 exposed longstanding weaknesses in South Korea's development model including high debt/equity ratios, massive foreign borrowing, and an undisciplined financial sector. GDP plunged by 6.9% in 1998, then recovered by 9% in 1999-2000. Korea adopted numerous economic reforms following the crisis, including greater openness to foreign investment and imports. Growth fell back to 3.3% in 2001 because of the slowing global economy, falling exports, and the perception that much-needed corporate and financial reforms had stalled. Led by consumer spending and exports, growth in 2002 was an impressive 7% despite anemic global growth. Between 2003 and 2007, growth moderated to about 4-5% annually. A downturn in consumer spending was offset by rapid export growth. In 2008, inflation increased in the face of rising oil and food prices before easing in the fourth quarter. Korea was hit hard by the global financial turmoil that began in September 2008. Stock prices fell by more than 40% for the year and the value of the won fell by approximately 26%. Korean GDP shrank in the fourth quarter and GDP growth for the year was just 2.2%. The Korean government adopted several measures to combat the credit crunch and stimulate the economy.
GDP (purchasing power parity)$1.338 trillion (2008 est.)
$1.309 trillion (2007 est.)
$1.245 trillion (2006 est.)
note: data are in 2008 US dollars
GDP (official exchange rate)$929.1 billion (2008 est.)
GDP - real growth rate(%)2.2% (2008 est.)
5.1% (2007 est.)
5.2% (2006 est.)
GDP - per capita (PPP)$27,700 (2008 est.)
$27,100 (2007 est.)
$25,900 (2006 est.)
note: data are in 2008 US dollars
GDP - composition by sector(%)agriculture: 3%
industry: 39.5%
services: 57.6% (2008 est.)
Labor force24.35 million (2008 est.)

Labor force - by occupation(%)agriculture: 7.2%
industry: 25.1%
services: 67.7% (2007)
Unemployment rate(%)3.2% (2008 est.)
3.3% (2007 est.)
Population below poverty line(%)15% (2003 est.)
Household income or consumption by percentage share(%)lowest 10%: 2.7%
highest 10%: 24.2% (2007)
Distribution of family income - Gini index31.3 (2007)
35.8 (2000)
Investment (gross fixed)(% of GDP)27.1% of GDP (2008 est.)
Budgetrevenues: $227.5 billion
expenditures: $216.7 billion (2008 est.)
Inflation rate (consumer prices)(%)4.7% (2008 est.)
2.5% (2007 est.)

Stock of money$80.66 billion (31 December 2008)
$92.59 billion (31 December 2007)
Stock of quasi money$478 billion (31 December 2008)
$541.7 billion (31 December 2007)
Stock of domestic credit$937 billion (31 December 2008)
$1.061 trillion (31 December 2007)
Market value of publicly traded shares$494.6 billion (31 December 2008)
$1.124 trillion (31 December 2007)
$835.2 billion (31 December 2006)
Economic aid - recipient$68.07 million (2004)

Public debt(% of GDP)24.4% of GDP (2008 est.)
21.3% of GDP (2004 est.)
Agriculture - productsrice, root crops, barley, vegetables, fruit; cattle, pigs, chickens, milk, eggs; fish
Industrieselectronics, telecommunications, automobile production, chemicals, shipbuilding, steel

Industrial production growth rate(%)2.2% (2008 est.)

Current account balance-$6.349 billion (2008 est.)
$5.954 billion (2007 est.)
Exports$433.5 billion (2008 est.)
$379 billion (2007 est.)

Exports - commodities(%)semiconductors, wireless telecommunications equipment, motor vehicles, computers, steel, ships, petrochemicals
Exports - partners(%)China 21.4%, US 10.9%, Japan 6.6%, Hong Kong 4.6% (2008)
Imports$427.4 billion (2008 est.)
$349.6 billion (2007 est.)

Imports - commodities(%)machinery, electronics and electronic equipment, oil, steel, transport equipment, organic chemicals, plastics
Imports - partners(%)China 17.7%, Japan 14%, US 8.9%, Saudi Arabia 7.8%, UAE 4.4%, Australia 4.1% (2008)

Reserves of foreign exchange and gold$201.2 billion (31 December 2008 est.)
$262.2 billion (31 December 2007 est.)
Debt - external$381.1 billion (31 December 2008 est.)
$383.2 billion (31 December 2007)

Stock of direct foreign investment - at home$124.2 billion (31 December 2008 est.)
$122 billion (31 December 2007 est.)
Stock of direct foreign investment - abroad$74.6 billion (30 June 2008)
$82.1 billion (2006)
Exchange ratesSouth Korean won (KRW) per US dollar - 1,101.7 (2008 est.), 929.2 (2007), 954.8 (2006), 1,024.1 (2005), 1,145.3 (2004)

Currency (code)South Korean won (KRW)

Telephones - main lines in use21.325 million (2008)
Telephones - mobile cellular45.607 million (2008)
Telephone systemgeneral assessment: excellent domestic and international services featuring rapid incorporation of new technologies
domestic: fixed-line and mobile-cellular services wide available with a combined telephone subscribership of roughly 140 per 100 persons; rapid assimilation of a full range of telecommunications technologies leading to a boom in e-commerce
international: country code - 82; numerous submarine cables provide links throughout Asia, Australia, the Middle East, Europe, and US; satellite earth stations - 66
Internet country code.kr
Internet users37.476 million (2008)
Airports116 (2009)
Pipelines(km)gas 1,423 km; refined products 827 km (2008)
Roadways(km)total: 103,029 km
paved: 80,642 km (includes 3,367 km of expressways)
unpaved: 22,387 km (2008)

Ports and terminalsInch'on, P'ohang, Pusan, Ulsan
Military branchesRepublic of Korea Army, Navy (includes Marine Corps), Air Force (2009)
Military service age and obligation(years of age)20-30 years of age for compulsory military service, with middle school education required; conscript service obligation - less than 22 months (Army, Marines), approx. 25 months (Air Force) (to be reduced to 18 months beginning 2016); 18-26 years of age for voluntary military service; women, in service since 1950, admitted to 7 service branches, including infantry, but excluded from artillery, armor, anti-air, and chaplaincy corps; some 4,000 women serve as commissioned and noncommissioned officers, approx. 2.3% of all officers (2009)
Manpower available for military servicemales age 16-49: 13,691,809
females age 16-49: 13,029,859 (2008 est.)
Manpower fit for military servicemales age 16-49: 10,991,263
females age 16-49: 10,356,604 (2009 est.)
Manpower reaching militarily significant age annuallymale: 371,728
female: 322,605 (2009 est.)
Military expenditures(% of GDP)2.7% of GDP (2006)
Disputes - internationalMilitary Demarcation Line within the 4-km wide Demilitarized Zone has separated North from South Korea since 1953; periodic incidents with North Korea in the Yellow Sea over the Northern Limiting Line, which South Korea claims as a maritime boundary; South Korea and Japan claim Liancourt Rocks (Tok-do/Take-shima), occupied by South Korea since 1954
note: the two rocky islets of Tok-do have become a South Korean tourist destination - over 132,000 people visited them in 2009, most by ship but also a substantial number by helicopter

Electricity - production(kWh)440 billion kWh (2008 est.)
Electricity - production by source(%)fossil fuel: 62.4%
hydro: 0.8%
nuclear: 36.6%
other: 0.2% (2001)
Electricity - consumption(kWh)385.1 billion kWh (2008 est.)
Electricity - exports(kWh)0 kWh (2008 est.)
Electricity - imports(kWh)0 kWh (2008 est.)
Oil - production(bbl/day)30,440 bbl/day (2008 est.)
Oil - consumption(bbl/day)2.175 million bbl/day (2008 est.)
Oil - exports(bbl/day)800,000 bbl/day
note: exports consist of oil derivatives (gasoline, light oil, and diesel), not crude oil (2008 est.)
Oil - imports(bbl/day)2.982 million bbl/day (2008 est.)
Economic aid - donorODA, $455.3 million (2006)

Oil - proved reserves(bbl)0 bbl
Natural gas - production(cu m)443 million cu m (2008 est.)
Natural gas - consumption(cu m)34.76 billion cu m (2008 est.)
Natural gas - exports(cu m)0 cu m (2008)
Natural gas - proved reserves(cu m)50 billion cu m (1 January 2008 est.)
HIV/AIDS - adult prevalence rate(%)less than 0.1% (2007 est.)
HIV/AIDS - people living with HIV/AIDS13,000 (2007 est.)
HIV/AIDS - deathsfewer than 500 (2007 est.)
Literacy(%)definition: age 15 and over can read and write
total population: 97.9%
male: 99.2%
female: 96.6% (2002)

School life expectancy (primary to tertiary education)(years)total: 17 years
male: 18 years
female: 15 years (2007)
Education expenditures(% of GDP)4.6% of GDP (2004)

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