South Korea

An independent kingdom for much of its long history, Korea was occupied by Japan beginning in 1905 following the Russo-Japanese War. In 1910, Tokyo formally annexed the entire Peninsula. Korea regained its independence following Japan’s surrender to the United States in 1945. After World War II, a democratic-based government (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 (Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, DPRK). During the Korean War (1950-53), US troops and UN forces fought alongside ROK soldiers to defend South Korea from a DPRK invasion supported by China and the Soviet Union. A 1953 armistice split the peninsula along a demilitarized zone at about the 38th parallel. PARK Chung-hee took over leadership of the country in a 1961 coup. During his regime, from 1961 to 1979, South Korea achieved rapid economic growth, with per capita income rising to roughly 17 times the level of North Korea. South Korea held its first free presidential election under a revised democratic constitution in 1987, with former ROK Army general ROH Tae-woo winning a close race.

In 1993, KIM Young-sam (1993-98) became the first civilian president of South Korea’s new democratic era. President KIM Dae-jung (1998-2003) won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2000 for his contributions to South Korean democracy and his “Sunshine” policy of engagement with North Korea. President PARK Geun-hye, daughter of former ROK President PARK Chung-hee, took office in February 2013 and is South Korea’s first female leader. South Korea holds a non-permanent seat (2013-14) on the UN Security Council and will host the 2018 Winter Olympic Games. Serious tensions with North Korea have punctuated inter-Korean relations in recent years, including the North’s attacks on a South Korean ship and island in 2010, nuclear and missile tests, and its temporary closure of the inter-Korean Kaesong Industrial Complex in 2013

South Korean Flag

South Korean Flag


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: 99,720 sq km
country comparison to the world: 109
land: 96,920 sq km
water: 2,800 sq km

Area – comparative:
Area comparison map:

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: 14.93%
permanent crops: 2.06%
other: 83% (2011)

Irrigated land:
8,804 sq km (2003)

Total renewable water resources:
69.7 cu km (2011)

Freshwater withdrawal (domestic/industrial/agricultural):
total: 25.47 cu km/yr (26%/12%/62%)
per capita: 548.7 cu m/yr (2003)

Natural hazards:
occasional typhoons bring high winds and floods; low-level seismic activity common in southwest
volcanism: Halla (elev. 1,950 m) 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

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

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People & Society

noun: Korean(s)
adjective: Korean

Ethnic groups:
homogeneous (except for about 20,000 Chinese)

Korean, English (widely taught in junior high and high school)

Christian 31.6% (Protestant 24%, Roman Catholic 7.6%), Buddhist 24.2%, other or unknown 0.9%, none 43.3% (2010 survey)


49,039,986 (July 2014 est.)
country comparison to the world: 27

Age structure:
0-14 years: 14.1% (male 3,603,943/female 3,328,634)
15-24 years: 13.5% (male 3,515,271/female 3,113,257)
25-54 years: 47.3% (male 11,814,872/female 11,360,962)
55-64 years: 12.4% (male 3,012,051/female 3,081,480)
65 years and over: 12.3% (male 2,570,433/female 3,639,083) (2014 est.)

Dependency ratios:
total dependency ratio: 37.1 %
youth dependency ratio: 19.9 %
elderly dependency ratio: 17.2 %
potential support ratio: 5.8 (2014 est.)

Median age:
total: 40.2 years
male: 38.7 years
female: 41.6 years (2014 est.)

Population growth rate:
0.16% (2014 est.)
country comparison to the world: 183

Birth rate:
8.26 births/1,000 population (2014 est.)
country comparison to the world: 220

Death rate:
6.63 deaths/1,000 population (2014 est.)
country comparison to the world: 143

Net migration rate:
0 migrant(s)/1,000 population (2014 est.)
country comparison to the world: 85

urban population: 83.2% of total population (2011)
rate of urbanization: 0.71% annual rate of change (2010-15 est.)

Major urban areas – population:
SEOUL (capital) 9.736 million; Busan (Pusan) 3.372 million; Incheon (Inch’on) 2.622 million; Daegu (Taegu) 2.447 million; Daejon (Taejon) 1.538 million; Gwangju (Kwangju) 1.503 million (2011)

Sex ratio:
at birth: 1.07 male(s)/female
0-14 years: 1.08 male(s)/female
15-24 years: 1.13 male(s)/female
25-54 years: 1.04 male(s)/female
55-64 years: 1 male(s)/female
65 years and over: 0.69 male(s)/female
total population: 1 male(s)/female (2014 est.)

Mother’s mean age at first birth:
30.3 (2011 est.)

Maternal mortality rate:
16 deaths/100,000 live births (2010)
country comparison to the world: 143

Infant mortality rate:
total: 3.93 deaths/1,000 live births
country comparison to the world: 200
male: 4.13 deaths/1,000 live births
female: 3.73 deaths/1,000 live births (2014 est.)

Life expectancy at birth:
total population: 79.8 years
country comparison to the world: 39
male: 76.67 years
female: 83.13 years (2014 est.)

Total fertility rate:
1.25 children born/woman (2014 est.)
country comparison to the world: 220

Contraceptive prevalence rate:
note: percent of women aged 15-44 (2009)

Health expenditures:
7.2% of GDP (2011)
country comparison to the world: 83

Physicians density:
2.02 physicians/1,000 population (2010)

Hospital bed density:
10.3 beds/1,000 population (2009)

Drinking water source:
urban: 99.7% of population
rural: 87.9% of population
total: 97.8% of population
urban: 0.3% of population
rural: 12.1% of population
total: 2.2% of population (2012 est.)

Sanitation facility access:
urban: 100% of population
rural: 100% of population
total: 100% of population
0% of population
0% of population
0% of population (2012 est.)

HIV/AIDS – adult prevalence rate:
less than 0.1% (2009 est.)
country comparison to the world: 154

HIV/AIDS – people living with HIV/AIDS:
9,500 (2009 est.)
country comparison to the world: 107

HIV/AIDS – deaths:
fewer than 500 (2009 est.)
country comparison to the world: 91

Obesity – adult prevalence rate:
7.7% (2008)
country comparison to the world: 139

Education expenditures:
5% of GDP (2009)
country comparison to the world: 75

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: 16 years (2011)

Unemployment, youth ages 15-24:
total: 9%
country comparison to the world: 116
male: 9.7%
female: 8.5% (2012)

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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), 6 metropolitan cities (gwangyoksi, singular and plural), 1 special city, and 1 special self-governing city
provinces: Chungbuk (North Chungcheong), Chungnam (South Chungcheong), Gangwon, Gyeonggi, Gyeongbuk (North Gyeongsang), Gyeongnam (South Gyeongsang), Jeju, Jeonbuk (North Jeolla), Jeonnam (South Jeolla)
metropolitan cities: Busan (Pusan), Daegu (Taegu), Daejeon (Taejon), Gwangju (Kwangju), Incheon (Inch’on), Ulsan
special city: Seoul
special self-governing city: Sejong

15 August 1945 (from Japan)

National holiday:
Liberation Day, 15 August (1945)

effective 17 July 1948; amended several times, last in 1987 (2013)

Legal system:
mixed legal system combining European civil law, Anglo-American law, and Chinese classical thought

International law organization participation:
has not submitted an ICJ jurisdiction declaration; accepts ICCt jurisdiction

19 years of age; universal

Executive branch:
chief of state: President PARK Geun-hye (since 25 February 2013)
head of government: (vacant); note – Prime Minister CHUNG Hong-won resigned 27 April 2014; MOON Chang-keuk was nominated Prime Minister 10 June 2014 and awaits parliamentary confirmation; Deputy Prime Minister HYUN Oh-seok (since 26 June 2013)
cabinet: State Council appointed by the president on the prime minister’s recommendation
(For more information visit the World Leaders website Opens in New Window)
elections: president elected by popular vote for a single five-year term; election last held on 19 December 2012 (next to be held in December 2017); prime minister appointed by president with consent of National Assembly
election results: PARK Geun-Hye elected president; percent of vote – PARK Geun-Hye (NFP) 51.6%, MOON Jae-In (DUP) 48%, others 0.4%

Legislative branch:
unicameral National Assembly or Gukhoe (300 seats; 246 members elected in single-seat constituencies, 54 elected by proportional representation; members serve four-year terms)
elections: last held on 11 April 2012 (next to be held in April 2016)
election results: percent of vote by party – NFP 42.8%, DUP 36.5%, UPP 10.3%, LFP 3.2%, others 7.2%; seats by party – NFP 152, DUP 127, UPP 13, LFP 5, independents 3
note: seats by negotiation group as of April 2014 – NFP 156, NPAD 130, UPP 6, Justice Party 5, Independents 1; note – 2 seats are vacant

Judicial branch:
highest court(s): Supreme Court of South Korea (consists of a chief justice and 13 justices); Constitutional Court (consists of a court head and 8 justices)
judge selection and term of office: Supreme Court chief justice appointed by the president with the consent of the National Assembly; other justices appointed by the president upon the recommendation of the chief justice and consent of the National Assembly; position of the chief justice is a 6-year non-renewable term; other justices serve 6-year renewable terms; Constitutional Court justices appointed – 3 by the president, 3 by the National Assembly, and 3 by the Supreme Court chief justice; court head serves until retirement at age 70, while other justices serve 6-year renewable terms with mandatory retirement at age 65
subordinate courts: High Courts; District Courts; Branch Courts (organized undeer the Branch Courts); specialized courts for family and administrative issues

Political parties and leaders:
Justice Party [CHEON Ho-sun]
Liberty Forward Party or LFP (merged with NFP in October 2012)
New Frontier Party (NFP) or Saenuri (formerly Grand National Party) [HWANG Woo-yea]
New Politics Alliance for Diplomacy or NPAD [KIM Han-gil and AHN Cheol-soo] (merger of the Democratic Party or DP (formerly DUP) [Kim Han-gil] and the New Political Vision Party or NPVP [AHN Cheol-soo] in March 2014)
Progressive Justice Party or PJP [ROH Hoe-chan and CHO Joon-ho]
Unified Progressive Party or UPP [LEE Jung-hee]

Political pressure groups and leaders:
Catholic Priests’ Association for Justice
Citizen’s Coalition for Economic Justice
Federation of Korean Industries
Federation of Korean Trade Unions
Korean Confederation of Trade Unions
Korean Veterans’ Association
Lawyers for a Democratic Society
National Council of Churches
People’s Solidarity for Participatory Democracy

International organization participation:
ADB, AfDB (nonregional member), APEC, ARF, ASEAN (dialogue partner), Australia Group, BIS, CD, CICA, CP, EAS, EBRD, FAO, FATF, G-20, IADB, IAEA, IBRD, ICAO, ICC (national committees), ICRM, IDA, IEA, IFAD, IFC, IFRCS, IHO, ILO, IMF, IMO, IMSO, Interpol, IOC, IOM, IPU, ISO, ITSO, ITU, ITUC (NGOs), LAIA (observer), MIGA, MINURSO, NEA, NSG, OAS (observer), OECD, OPCW, OSCE (partner), Pacific Alliance (observer), Paris Club (associate), PCA, PIF (partner), SAARC (observer), SICA (observer), UN, UN Security Council (temporary), UNAMID, UNCTAD, UNESCO, UNHCR, UNIDO, UNIFIL, UNISFA, UNMIL, UNMISS, UNMOGIP, UNOCI, UNWTO, UPU, WCO, WHO, WIPO, WMO, WTO, ZC

Diplomatic representation in the US:
chief of mission: Ambassador AHN Ho-young (since 7 June 2013)
chancery: 2450 Massachusetts Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20008
telephone: [1] (202) 939-5600
FAX: [1] (202) 797-0595
consulate(s) general: Agana (Guam), Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Honolulu, Houston, Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco, Seattle
consulate(s): Anchorage (AK), Dallas, Hagatna (Guam)

Diplomatic representation from the US:
chief of mission: Ambassador Sung Y. KIM (since 3 November 2011)
embassy: 188 Sejong-daero, Jongno-gu, Seoul 110-710
mailing address: US Embassy Seoul, Unit 15550, APO AP 96205-5550
telephone: [82] (2) 397-4114
FAX: [82] (2) 725-0152

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; the South 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 positive forces of the yang; each trigram (kwae) denotes one of the four universal elements, which together express the principle of movement and harmony

National symbol(s):
taegeuk (yin yang symbol)

National anthem:
name: “Aegukga” (Patriotic Song)

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Economy – overview:
South Korea over the past four decades has demonstrated incredible growth and global integration to become a high-tech industrialized economy. In the 1960s, 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 is currently the world’s 12th largest economy. 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.

South Korea adopted numerous economic reforms following the crisis, including greater openness to foreign investment and imports. Growth moderated to about 4% annually between 2003 and 2007. South Korea’s export focused economy was hit hard by the 2008 global economic downturn, but quickly rebounded in subsequent years, reaching 6.3% growth in 2010. The US-Korea Free Trade Agreement was ratified by both governments in 2011 and went into effect in March 2012. Throughout 2012 and 2013 the economy experienced sluggish growth because of market slowdowns in the United States, China, and the Eurozone. The administration in 2014 is likely to face the challenge of balancing heavy reliance on exports with developing domestic-oriented sectors, such as services. The South Korean economy’s long term challenges include a rapidly aging population, inflexible labor market, dominance of large conglomerates (chaebols), and heavy reliance on exports, which comprise about half of GDP.

GDP (purchasing power parity):
$1.666 trillion (2013 est.)
country comparison to the world: 13
$1.62 trillion (2012 est.)
$1.587 trillion (2011 est.)
note: data are in 2013 US dollars

GDP (official exchange rate):
$1.198 trillion (2013 est.)

GDP – real growth rate:
2.8% (2013 est.)
country comparison to the world: 123
2% (2012 est.)
3.7% (2011 est.)

GDP – per capita (PPP):
$33,200 (2013 est.)
country comparison to the world: 42
$32,400 (2012 est.)
$31,900 (2011 est.)
note: data are in 2013 US dollars

Gross national saving:
31.9% of GDP (2013 est.)
country comparison to the world: 22
31.4% of GDP (2012 est.)
31.9% of GDP (2011 est.)

GDP – composition, by end use:
household consumption: 53.1%
government consumption: 15.9%
investment in fixed capital: 27%
investment in inventories: 0.3%
exports of goods and services: 54.6%
imports of goods and services: -50.8%
(2013 est.)

GDP – composition, by sector of origin:
agriculture: 2.6%
industry: 39.2%
services: 58.2% (2013 est.)

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:
2.5% (2013 est.)
country comparison to the world: 120

Labor force:
25.86 million (2013 est.)
country comparison to the world: 25

Labor force – by occupation:
agriculture: 6.9%
industry: 23.6%
services: 69.4% (October 2013 est.)

Unemployment rate:
3.2% (2013 est.)
country comparison to the world: 26
3.2% (2012 est.)

Population below poverty line:
16% (2009 est.)

Household income or consumption by percentage share:
lowest 10%: 6.4%
highest 10%: 37.7% (2011)

Distribution of family income – Gini index:
31.1 (2011 est.)
country comparison to the world: 112
35.8 (2000)

revenues: $296.1 billion
expenditures: $287.2 billion (2013 est.)

Taxes and other revenues:
24.7% of GDP (2013 est.)
country comparison to the world: 133

Budget surplus (+) or deficit (-):
0.7% of GDP (2013 est.)
country comparison to the world: 31

Public debt:
35.8% of GDP (2013 est.)
country comparison to the world: 106
35.5% of GDP (2012 est.)

Fiscal year:
calendar year

Inflation rate (consumer prices):
1.1% (2013 est.)
country comparison to the world: 30
2.2% (2012 est.)

Central bank discount rate:
2.5% (31 December 2013)
country comparison to the world: 108
2.75% (31 December 2012)

Commercial bank prime lending rate:
4.7% (31 December 2013 est.)
country comparison to the world: 144
5.39% (31 December 2012 est.)

Stock of narrow money:
$465.2 billion (31 December 2013 est.)
country comparison to the world: 12
$426 billion (31 December 2012 est.)

Stock of broad money:
$1.764 trillion (31 December 2013 est.)
country comparison to the world: 10
$1.664 trillion (31 December 2012 est.)

Stock of domestic credit:
$1.266 trillion (31 December 2013 est.)
country comparison to the world: 16
NA% (31 December 2012 est.)

Market value of publicly traded shares:
$1.068 trillion (31 December 2013 est.)
country comparison to the world: 11
$1.078 trillion (28 December 2012)
$904.7 billion (29December 2011 est.)

Current account balance:
$55.69 billion (2013 est.)
country comparison to the world: 11
$43.34 billion (2012 est.)

$557.3 billion (2013 est.)
country comparison to the world: 9
$547.9 billion (2012 est.)

Exports – commodities:
semiconductors, wireless telecommunications equipment, motor vehicles, auto parts, computers, display, home appliances, wire telecommunication equipment, steel, ships, petrochemicals

Exports – partners:
China 24.5%, US 10.7%, Japan 7.1%, Hong Kong 6%, Singapore 4.2% (2012 est.)

$516.6 billion (2013 est.)
country comparison to the world: 9
$519.6 billion (2012 est.)

Imports – commodities:
machinery, electronics and electronic equipment, oil, steel, optical instruments, transport equipment, organic chemicals, plastics

Imports – partners:
China 15.6%, Japan 12.4%, US 8.3%, Saudi Arabia 7.6%, Qatar 4.9%, Australia 4.4% (2011 est.)

Reserves of foreign exchange and gold:
$341.8 billion (31 December 2013 est.)
country comparison to the world: 9
$327 billion (31 December 2012 est.)

Debt – external:
$430.9 billion (31 December 2013 est.)
country comparison to the world: 28
$425.1 billion (31 December 2012 est.)

Stock of direct foreign investment – at home:
$152.3 billion (31 December 2013 est.)
country comparison to the world: 30
$147.2 billion (31 December 2012 est.)

Stock of direct foreign investment – abroad:
$223.2 billion (31 December 2013 est.)
country comparison to the world: 23
$196.4 billion (31 December 2012 est.)

Exchange rates:
South Korean won (KRW) per US dollar –
1,107.3 (2013 est.)
1,126.47 (2012 est.)
1,156.1 (2010 est.)
1,276.93 (2009)
1,101.7 (2008)

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