Introduction    Korea, South Top of Page
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.
   Geography    Korea, South Top of Page
Eastern Asia, southern half of the Korean Peninsula bordering the Sea of Japan and the Yellow Sea
Geographic coordinates:
37 00 N, 127 30 E
Map references:
total: 98,480 sq km
land: 98,190 sq km
water: 290 sq km
Area - comparative:
slightly larger than Indiana
Land boundaries:
total: 238 km
border countries: North Korea 238 km
2,413 km
Maritime claims:
territorial sea: 12 nm; between 3 nm and 12 nm in the Korea Strait
contiguous zone: 24 nm
exclusive economic zone: 200 nm
continental shelf: not specified
temperate, with rainfall heavier in summer than winter
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)
Irrigated land:
8,780 sq km (2003)
Total renewable water resources:
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 hazards:
occasional typhoons bring high winds and floods; low-level seismic activity common in southwest
Environment - current issues:
air pollution in large cities; acid rain; water pollution from the discharge of sewage and industrial effluents; drift net fishing
Environment - international agreements:
party 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 - note:
strategic location on Korea Strait
   People    Korea, South Top of Page
48,508,972 (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:
total: 37.3 years
male: 36 years
female: 38.5 years (2008 est.)
Population growth rate:
0.266% (2009 est.)
Birth rate:
9.09 births/1,000 population (2008 est.)
Death rate:
5.73 deaths/1,000 population (2008 est.)
Net migration rate:
-0.33 migrant(s)/1,000 population (2009 est.)
urban population: 81% of total population (2008)
rate of urbanization: 0.6% annual rate of change (2005-2010)
Sex ratio:
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:
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:
total population: 78.72 years
male: 75.45 years
female: 82.22 years (2009 est.)
Total fertility rate:
1.21 children born/woman (2009 est.)
HIV/AIDS - adult prevalence rate:
less than 0.1% (2007 est.)
HIV/AIDS - people living with HIV/AIDS:
13,000 (2007 est.)
HIV/AIDS - deaths:
fewer than 500 (2007 est.)
noun: Korean(s)
adjective: Korean
Ethnic groups:
homogeneous (except for about 20,000 Chinese)
Christian 26.3% (Protestant 19.7%, Roman Catholic 6.6%), Buddhist 23.2%, other or unknown 1.3%, none 49.3% (1995 census)
Korean, English widely taught in junior high and high school
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):
total: 17 years
male: 18 years
female: 15 years (2007)
Education expenditures:
4.6% of GDP (2004)
   Government    Korea, South Top of Page
Country name:
conventional long form: Republic of Korea
conventional short form: South Korea
local long form: Taehan-min'guk
local short form: Han'guk
abbreviation: ROK
Government type:
name: Seoul
geographic coordinates: 37 33 N, 126 59 E
time difference: UTC+9 (14 hours ahead of Washington, DC during Standard Time)
Administrative divisions:
9 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 (Inch'on), Kwangju-gwangyoksi (Kwangju), Pusan-gwangyoksi (Pusan), Soul-t'ukpyolsi (Seoul), Taegu-gwangyoksi (Taegu), Taejon-gwangyoksi (Taejon), Ulsan-gwangyoksi (Ulsan)
15 August 1945 (from Japan)
National holiday:
Liberation Day, 15 August (1945)
17 July 1948; note - amended or rewritten nine times; current constitution approved on 29 October 1987
Legal system:
combines elements of continental European civil law systems, Anglo-American law, and Chinese classical thought; has not accepted compulsory ICJ jurisdiction
19 years of age; universal
Executive branch:
chief of state: President LEE Myung-bak (since 25 February 2008)
head of government: Prime Minister HAN Seung-soo (since 29 February 2008)
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 branch:
unicameral National Assembly or Kukhoe (299 seats; 243 members elected in single-seat constituencies, 56 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 branch:
Supreme 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 parties and leaders:
Democratic Party or DP [CHUNG Sye-kyun] (formerly the United Democratic Party or UDP); Democratic Labor Party or DLP [KANG Ki-kabi]; Grand National Party or GNP [KANG Jae-sup]; Liberty Forward Party or LFP [LEE Hoi-chang]; Pro-Park Alliance or PPA [SUH Choung-won]; Renewal Korea Party or RKP [MOON Kook-hyun]
Political pressure groups and leaders:
Federation 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 participation:
Diplomatic representation in the US:
chief of mission: Ambassador HAN Duck-soo
chancery: 2450 Massachusetts Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20008
telephone: [1] (202) 939-5600
FAX: [1] (202) 387-0205
consulate(s) general: Agana (Guam), Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Honolulu, Houston, Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco, Seattle
Diplomatic representation from the US:
chief of mission: Ambassador Kathleen STEPHENS
embassy: 32 Sejongno, Jongno-gu, Seoul 110-710
mailing address: US Embassy Seoul, APO AP 96205-5550
telephone: [82] (2) 397-4114
FAX: [82] (2) 738-8845
Flag description:
white 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    Korea, South Top of Page
Economy - overview:
Since 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 2.5%. The Korean government adopted several measures to combat the credit crunch and stimulate the economy.
GDP (purchasing power parity):
$1.278 trillion (2008 est.)
$1.247 trillion (2007)
$1.173 trillion (2006)
GDP (official exchange rate):
$857.5 billion (2008 est.)
GDP - real growth rate:
2.5% (2008 est.)
GDP - per capita (PPP):
$26,000 (2008 est.)
GDP - composition by sector:
agriculture: 3%
industry: 39.5%
services: 57.6% (2008 est.)
Labor force:
24.35 million (2008 est.)
Labor force - by occupation:
agriculture: 7.2%
industry: 25.1%
services: 67.7% (2007)
Unemployment rate:
3.2% (2008 est.)
Household income or consumption by percentage share:
lowest 10%: 2.7%
highest 10%: 24.2% (2007)
Distribution of family income - Gini index:
31.3 (2007)
Investment (gross fixed):
27.1% of GDP (2008 est.)
revenues: $232.2 billion
expenditures: $222.9 billion (2008 est.)
Public debt:
32.7% of GDP (2008 est.)
Inflation rate (consumer prices):
4.7% (2008 est.)
Central bank discount rate:
3% (31 December 2008)
Commercial bank prime lending rate:
7% (31 December 2008)
Stock of money:
$80.66 billion (31 December 2008)
Stock of quasi money:
$478 billion (31 December 2008)
Stock of domestic credit:
$937 billion (31 December 2008)
Market value of publicly traded shares:
$623 billion (31 December 2008)
Agriculture - products:
rice, root crops, barley, vegetables, fruit; cattle, pigs, chickens, milk, eggs; fish
electronics, telecommunications, automobile production, chemicals, shipbuilding, steel
Industrial production growth rate:
4.5% (2008 est.)
Electricity - production:
440 billion kWh (2008 est.)
Electricity - consumption:
385.1 billion kWh (2008 est.)
Electricity - exports:
0 kWh (2008 est.)
Electricity - imports:
0 kWh (2008 est.)
Oil - production:
20,970 bbl/day (2007 est.)
Oil - consumption:
2.08 million bbl/day (2008 est.)
Oil - exports:
910,000 bbl/day
note: exports consist of oil derivatives (gasoline, light oil, and diesel), not crude oil (2008 est.)
Oil - imports:
2.37 million bbl/day (2008)
Oil - proved reserves:
NA bbl
Natural gas - production:
640 million cu m (2007 est.)
Natural gas - consumption:
37 billion cu m (2007 est.)
Natural gas - exports:
0 cu m (2007 est.)
Natural gas - imports:
34.4 billion cu m (2007 est.)
Natural gas - proved reserves:
50 billion cu m (1 January 2008 est.)
Current account balance:
-$6.41 billion (2008)
$419 billion f.o.b. (2008)
Exports - commodities:
semiconductors, wireless telecommunications equipment, motor vehicles, computers, steel, ships, petrochemicals
Exports - partners:
China 22.1%, US 12.4%, Japan 7.1%, Hong Kong 5% (2007)
$435 billion f.o.b. (2008 est.)
Imports - commodities:
machinery, electronics and electronic equipment, oil, steel, transport equipment, organic chemicals, plastics
Imports - partners:
China 17.7%, Japan 15.8%, US 10.5%, Saudi Arabia 5.9% (2007)
Reserves of foreign exchange and gold:
$201.2 billion (31 December 2008)
Debt - external:
$380.5 billion (31 December 2008)
Stock of direct foreign investment - at home:
$103.7 billion (30 June 2008)
Stock of direct foreign investment - abroad:
$74.6 billion (30 June 2008)
Exchange rates:
South 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)
   Communications    Korea, South Top of Page
Telephones - main lines in use:
23.905 million (2007)
Telephones - mobile cellular:
43.5 million (2007)
Telephone system:
general assessment: excellent domestic and international services featuring rapid incorporation of new technologies
domestic: combined fixed-line and mobile-cellular telephone subscribership 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
Radio broadcast stations:
AM 96, FM 322, shortwave 1 (2008)
Television broadcast stations:
57 (plus 103 cable operators and 119 relay cable operators) (2008)
Internet country code:
Internet hosts:
333,823 (2008)
Internet users:
35.59 million (2007)
   Transportation    Korea, South Top of Page
105 (2007)
Airports - with paved runways:
total: 68
over 3,047 m: 3
2,438 to 3,047 m: 21
1,524 to 2,437 m: 14
914 to 1,523 m: 11
under 914 m: 19 (2007)
Airports - with unpaved runways:
total: 37
914 to 1,523 m: 3
under 914 m: 34 (2007)
536 (2007)
gas 1,423 km; refined products 827 km (2008)
total: 3,381 km
standard gauge: 3,381 km 1.435-m gauge (1,843 km electrified) (2008)
total: 103,029 km
paved: 80,642 km (includes 3,367 km of expressways)
unpaved: 22,387 km (2008)
1,608 km (most navigable only by small craft) (2008)
Merchant marine:
total: 812
by type: bulk carrier 212, cargo 226, carrier 2, chemical tanker 133, container 80, liquefied gas 33, passenger 5, passenger/cargo 26, petroleum tanker 61, refrigerated cargo 16, roll on/roll off 9, specialized tanker 4, vehicle carrier 5
foreign-owned: 31 (China 1, Japan 20, Norway 2, UK 1, US 7)
registered in other countries: 363 (Belize 1, Cambodia 22, China 1, Cyprus 1, Honduras 6, Hong Kong 3, Kiribati 2, Liberia 3, Malta 2, Marshall Islands 10, Mongolia 1, Netherlands 1, Panama 303, Russia 1, Singapore 3, Tuvalu 1, unknown 2) (2008)
Ports and terminals:
Inch'on, P'ohang, Pusan, Ulsan
   Military    Korea, South Top of Page
Military branches:
Republic of Korea Army, Navy (includes Marine Corps), Air Force (2009)
Military service age and obligation:
20-30 years of age for compulsory military service, with middle school education required; conscript service obligation - 24-28 months, depending on the military branch involved (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 (2008)
Manpower available for military service:
males age 16-49: 13,691,809
females age 16-49: 13,029,859 (2008 est.)
Manpower fit for military service:
males age 16-49: 10,991,263
females age 16-49: 10,356,604 (2009 est.)
Manpower reaching militarily significant age annually:
male: 371,728
female: 322,605 (2009 est.)
Military expenditures:
2.7% of GDP (2006)
   Transnational Issues    Korea, South Top of Page
Disputes - international:
Military 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 (Dokdo/Take-shima), occupied by South Korea since 1954

This page was last updated on 9 April 2009


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