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Country Profiles: South Korea

Flag, map and facts courtesy of CIA World Factbook1020

Background

An 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.

Location

South Korea

Eastern Asia, southern half of the Korean Peninsula bordering the Sea of Japan and the Yellow Sea.

Area

total: 99,720 sq km
land: 96,920 sq km
water: 2,800 sq km

Area - comparative

slightly larger than Indiana

Climate

temperate, with rainfall heavier in summer than winter

Terrain

mostly hills and mountains; wide coastal plains in west and south

Elevation extremes

lowest point: Sea of Japan 0 m
highest point: Halla-san 1,950 m

Natural resources

coal, tungsten, graphite, molybdenum, lead, hydropower potential

Land use

arable land: 16.58%
permanent crops: 2.01%
other: 81.41% (2005)

Natural hazards

occasional typhoons bring high winds and floods; low-level seismic activity common in southwest

volcanism: Halla (elev. 1,950 m, 6,398 ft) is considered historically active although it has not erupted in many centuries

Environment - current issues

air pollution in large cities; acid rain; water pollution from the discharge of sewage and industrial effluents; drift net fishing

Geography - note

strategic location on Korea Strait

Population

48,636,068 (July 2010 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) (2010 est.)

Population growth rate

0.258% (2010 est.)

Infant mortality rate

4.24 deaths/1,000 live births

Life expectancy at birth

total population: 78.81 years
male: 75.56 years
female: 82.28 years (2010 est.)

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

Literacy

definition: age 15 and over can read and write
total population: 97.9%
male: 99.2%
female: 96.6% (2002)

Government type

republic

Capital

Seoul

Independence

15 August 1945 (from Japan)

Legal system

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

Suffrage

19 years of age; universal

Flag description

South Korea Flagwhite 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; the Korean national flag is called Taegukki; white is a traditional Korean color and represents peace and purity; the blue section represents the negative cosmic forces of the yin, while the red symbolizes the opposite postive forces of the yang; each trigram (kwae) denotes one of the four universal elements, which together express the principle of movement and harmony

Economy - overview

Since the 1960s, South Korea has achieved an incredible record of growth and global integration to become a high-tech industrialized 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, and currently is among the world's twenty largest economies. Initially, a system of close government and business ties, including directed credit and import restrictions, made this success possible. 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 and massive short-term foreign borrowing. GDP plunged by 6.9% in 1998, and then recovered by 9% in 1999-2000. Korea adopted numerous economic reforms following the crisis, including greater openness to foreign investment and imports. Growth moderated to about 4-5% annually between 2003 and 2007. With the global economic downturn in late 2008, South Korean GDP growth slowed to 2.2% in 2008 and declined 0.2% in 2009. In the third quarter of 2009, the economy began to recover, in large part due to export growth, low interest rates, and an expansionary fiscal policy. The South Korean economy's long term challenges include a rapidly aging population, inflexible labor market, and overdependence on manufacturing exports to drive economic growth.

GDP - per capita

$28,100 (2009 est.)

Population below poverty line

15% (2003 est.)

Labor force

24.4 million (2009 est.)

Unemployment rate

3.7% (2009 est.)

Industries

electronics, telecommunications, automobile production, chemicals, shipbuilding, steel

Agriculture - products

rice, root crops, barley, vegetables, fruit; cattle, pigs, chickens, milk, eggs; fish

Exports - commodities

semiconductors, wireless telecommunications equipment, motor vehicles, computers, steel, ships, petrochemicals

Imports - commodities

machinery, electronics and electronic equipment, oil, steel, transport equipment, organic chemicals, plastics

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