U.S. Department of State
Background Notes: South Korea, January 1996
Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs
Prepared and released by the Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs,
Office of Korean Affairs
Official Name: Republic of Korea
Area: 98,500 sq. km. (38,000 sq. mi.); about the size of Indiana.
Cities: Capital--Seoul (1994: 10.9 million). Other major cities--Pusan
(1993: 3.8 million), Taegu (1993: 2.2 million), Inchon (1994: 2.1
Terrain: Partially forested mountain ranges separated by deep, narrow
valleys; cultivated plains along the coasts, particularly in the west
Nationality: Noun and adjective--Korean(s).
Population (1994): 44.5 million.
Annual growth rate (1994): 0.9%.
Ethnic groups: Korean; small Chinese minority.
Religions: Christianity, Buddhism, Shamanism, Confucianism, Chondogyo.
Education: Years compulsory--9. Number of students (1994)--11,482,013.
Attendance (1993)--of those eligible, 99.1% attended middle school,
94.6% attended high school. Literacy--96%.
Health (1994): 1 doctor/817 persons. Infant mortality rate (1993)--
22/1,000. Life expectancy (1994)--men 67.7 yrs., women 75.1 yrs.
Work force (19.3 million, 1993): Agriculture (1993)--14.7%. Mining and
Manufacturing (1993)--24.4% Services (1993)--60.9%.
Type: Republic with powers shared between the president and the
Independence: August 15, 1948.
Constitution: July 17, 1948; last revised 1987.
Branches: Executive--president (chief of state). Legislative--unicameral
National Assembly. Judicial--Supreme Court and appellate courts,
Subdivisions: 9 provinces, 6 administratively separate cities (Seoul,
Pusan, Inchon, Taegu, Kwangju, Taejon).
Political parties: Government party--New Korea Party (NKP). Opposition
parties--National Congress for New Politics (NCNP), Democratic Party
(DP), United Liberal Democrats (ULD). Suffrage: Universal at 20.
Central government budget (1993): Expenditures--$65.8 billion.
Defense (1994): $12.6 billion, about 3.5% of nominal GNP and 23.3% of
government budget; about 650,000 troops.
Holidays: Lunar New Year, February 9-11; Independence Movement Day,
March 3; Buddha's Birthday, May 18; Memorial Day, June 6; Constitution
Day, August 15; Liberation Day, September 15; Chusok (Thanksgiving),
Flag: Centered on a white field is the ancient Chinese symbol of yin and
yang in red and blue; at each corner of the white field is a different
trigram of black bars.
Nominal GNP (1994): $331 billion.
Annual growth rate (1965-86): 7%; (1985-92): 9.6%; (1994): 5.8%.
GDP Growth Rate (1994): 7.9%.
Per capita GNP (1994): $8,483.
Consumer price index (1994 avg. increase): 6.2%.
Natural resources: Limited coal, tungsten, iron ore, limestone,
kaolinite, and graphite.
Agriculture, including forestry and fisheries (7.1% of 1993 GNP):
Products--rice, vegetables, fruit. Arable land--22% of land area.
Mining and manufacturing (27.6% of 1993 GNP): Textiles, footwear,
electronics and electrical equipment, shipbuilding, motor vehicles,
petrochemicals, industrial machinery.
Trade (1994): Exports--$96.0 billion: manufactures, textiles, ships,
automobiles, steel, computers, footwear. Major markets--U.S., Japan,
ASEAN, European Community. Imports--$102.4 billion: crude oil, food,
machinery and transportation equipment, chemicals and chemical products,
base metals and articles. Major suppliers--Japan, U.S., European
Community, Middle East.
Exchange rate (Mar. 1995): 758 won=US$1.
Fiscal year: Calendar year.
Membership in International Organizations
UN member; active in many UN specialized agencies (FAO, GATT, IAEA,
IBRD, ICAO, IDA, IFAD, IFC, IMF, IMO, ITU, UNCTAD, UNDP, UNESCO, UNICEF,
UNIDO, UPU, WHO, WIPO, WMO, WTO) and other international organizations
(APEC, Customs Cooperation Council, Korean Peninsula Energy Development
Organization (KEDO), COCOM, Economic and Social Commission for Asia and
the Pacific, Geneva Conventions of 1949 for the Protection of War
Victims, Asian Development Bank, INTELSAT, the Administrative Council of
the International Telecommunications Council, International Whaling
Commission, Interparliamentary Union, INTERPOL); official observer
status in African Development Bank (member of Africa Development Fund),
and International Labor Organization.
Korea was first populated by a Tungusic branch of the Ural-Altaic
family, which migrated to the peninsula from the northwestern regions of
Asia. Some also settled parts of northeast China (Manchuria); Koreans
and Manchurians still show physical similarities--in their height, for
example. Koreans are racially and linguistically homogeneous, with no
sizable indigenous minorities, except Chinese (20,000).
South Korea's major population centers are in the northwest area of
Seoul-Inchon and in the fertile southern plain. The mountainous central
and eastern areas are sparsely inhabited. The Japanese colonial
administration concentrated its industrial development efforts in the
comparatively underpopulated and resource-rich north, resulting in a
considerable migration of people to the north from the southern agrarian
provinces. This trend was reversed after World War II, as Koreans
returned to the south from Japan and Manchuria. In addition, more than 2
million Koreans moved to the south from the north following the division
of the peninsula into U.S. and Soviet military zones of administration.
This migration continued after the Republic of Korea was established in
1948 and during the Korean War (1950-53). About 10% of the people in the
Republic of Korea are of northern origin. With 44.5 million people,
South Korea has one of the world's highest population densities--much
higher, for example, than India or Japan--while the territorially larger
North has about only 22 million people. Ethnic Koreans now residing in
other countries live mostly in China (1.9 million), the United States
(1.52 million), Japan (681,000), and the countries of the former Soviet
Korean is a Ural-Altaic language. It is related to Japanese and remotely
related to Hungarian, Finnish, Estonian, and Mongolian. Although
dialects exist, the Korean spoken throughout the peninsula is mutually
comprehensible. Chinese characters were used to write Korean before the
Korean Hangul alphabet was invented in the 15th century. These
characters are still in limited use in South Korea, but the North uses
Hangul exclusively. Many older people retain some knowledge of Japanese
from the colonial period (1910-45), and many educated Koreans can read
English, which is taught in all secondary schools.
Korea's traditional religions are Shamanism and Buddhism. Buddhism has
lost some influence over the years, but is still followed by about 27%
of the population. Shamanism (traditional spirit worship) is still
practiced in some rural areas.
Although Confucianism remains a dominant cultural influence, its
religious adherents are few and tend to be elderly. Some sources place
the number of adherents of Chondogyo, a native religion founded in the
mid-19th century that fuses elements of Confucianism and Christianity,
at over one million.
Christian missionaries arrived in Korea as early as the 16th century but
it was not until the 19th century that they founded schools, hospitals,
and other modern institutions throughout the country. Christianity is
now one of Korea's largest religions. In 1993, nearly 10.5 million
Koreans, or 24% of the population, were Christians (about 76%
Protestant)--the largest figure for any East Asian country except the
According to Korean legend, the god-king Tangun founded the Korean
nation in BC 2333. By the first century AD, the Korean Peninsula was
divided into the kingdoms of Silla, Koguryo, and Paekche. The Silla
kingdom unified the peninsula in 668 AD. The Koryo dynasty (from which
is derived the Western name "Korea") succeeded the Silla kingdom in 935.
The Choson dynasty (ruled by members of the Yi clan) supplanted Koryo in
1392 and lasted until the Japanese annexed Korea in 1910.
Throughout most of its history, Korea has been invaded, influenced, and
fought over by its larger neighbors. Korea was under Mongolian
occupation from 1231 until the early 14th century and was devastated by
Chinese rebel armies in 1359 and 1361; the Japanese warlord Hideyoshi
launched major invasions in 1592 and l597. Korea's closed-door policy,
adopted to ward off foreign encroachment, earned it the name of "Hermit
Kingdom." Although the Choson Dynasty paid fealty to the Chinese throne,
Korea was, in fact, independent until the late 19th century. At that
time Japanese, Chinese, and Russian competition in Northeast Asia led to
armed conflict and foreign intervention in Korea's domestic and foreign
policy. Japan defeated its two competitors and established dominance in
Korea, formally annexing it in 1910.
The Japanese colonial era was characterized by tight control from Tokyo
and ruthless efforts to supplant Korean language and culture. Organized
Korean resistance to such colonialism, notably the 1919 Independence
Movement, was unsuccessful and Japan remained firmly in control until
the end of World War II.
Near the end of the war, the April 1945 Yalta Conference agreed to
establish a four-power trusteeship for Korea. The trusteeship was
intended as a temporary administrative measure pending democratic
elections for a Korean government. With the unexpected early surrender
of Japan, the United States proposed--and the Soviet Union agreed--that
Japanese troops surrender to U.S. forces south of the 38th parallel and
to Soviet forces north of that line.
At a December 1945 Foreign Ministers' conference in Moscow, it was
proposed that a trusteeship be established in Korea. The Moscow
Conference generated a firestorm of protest in the South. Its most
critical opponents were rightist Korean leaders associated with the
provisional government established in Shanghai in 1919 by Korean
nationalists living abroad, most notable among them was nationalist
leader Syngman Rhee.
The U.S. military government initially found itself at odds with the
local self-governing bodies established after the Japanese surrender --
the "people's committees." It relied on the advice of conservative
elements but later tried to put together a moderate coalition to provide
itself with a broader base of political support. In December 1946, the
military government established the Interim Legislative Assembly to
draft legislation, and appointed moderates to half of the seats. (The
others were indirectly elected seats that went to rightists.) But the
July 1947 assassination of a prominent leftist in the coalition and the
decision of a coalition moderate to enter into unification talks with
the north led to the demise of the coalition efforts.
The joint Soviet-American commission provided for by the Moscow
Conference met intermittently in Seoul but became deadlocked over the
issue of free consultations with representatives of all Korean political
groups for establishment of a national government. The U.S. submitted
the Korean question to the UN General Assembly for resolution in
September 1947. In November the General Assembly ruled that UN-
supervised elections should be held.
The Soviet Union and Korean authorities in the north ignored the UN
General Assembly resolution on elections. Nonetheless, elections were
carried out under UN observation in the south, and on August 15, 1948,
the Republic of Korea (ROK) was established. Syngman Rhee became the
republic's first president. On September 9, 1948, the Democratic
People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) was established in the north under Kim
Guerrilla fighting in the south and clashes between southern and
northern forces along the 38th parallel intensified during 1948-50.
Although it provided modest military aid to the south, withdrew its
occupation forces, leaving behind a 500-man Military Advisory Group by
On June 25, 1950, North Korean forces invaded South Korea. The UN, in
accord with its Charter, engaged in its first collective action by
establishing the UN Command (UNC), under which 16 member nations sent
troops and assistance to South Korea. At the request of the UN Security
Council, the United States, contributor of the largest contingent, led
this international effort.
After initially falling back to the southeastern Pusan perimeter, UN
forces conducted a successful surprise landing at Inchon and rapidly
advanced up the peninsula. As the main UN force approached the northern
Yalu River, however, large numbers of Chinese "people's volunteers"
intervened, forcing UN troops to withdraw south of Seoul. The battle
line seesawed back and forth until the late spring of 1951, when a
successful offensive by UN forces was halted to enhance ceasefire
negotiation prospects. The battle line thereafter stabilized north of
Seoul near the 38th parallel.
Armistice negotiations began in July 1951, but hostilities continued
until July 27, 1953. On that date at Panmunjom, the military commanders
of the North Korean Army, the Chinese People's Volunteers, and the UNC
signed an armistice agreement. Neither the United States nor South Korea
is a signatory of the armistice per se, though both adhere to it through
the UNC. No comprehensive peace agreement has replaced the 1953
armistice pact; thus, a condition of belligerency still technically
exists on the divided peninsula.
The Military Armistice Commission (MAC) was created in 1953 to oversee
and enforce the terms of the armistice. The Neutral Nation Supervisory
Committee (NNSC)--originally made up of delegations from Poland and
Czechoslovakia on the DPRK side and Sweden and Switzerland on the UN
side--monitors the activities of the MAC. In recent years, North Korea
has sought to undermine the MAC by various means. In April 1994 it
declared the MAC void and withdrew its representatives. Prior to this it
had forced the Czechs out of the NNSC by refusing to accept the Czech
Republic as the successor state of Czechoslovakia, an original member of
the NNSC. In September 1994 China "recalled" the Chinese People's
Volunteers representatives to the MAC, and in early 1995 North Korea
forced Poland to remove its representatives to the NNSC from the North
Korean side of the DMZ.
Syngman Rhee served as president of the Republic of Korea until April
1960, when unrest led by university students forced him to step down. A
caretaker government was then established, the constitution was amended,
and national elections were held in June. The opposition Democratic
Party easily defeated Rhee's Liberal Party, and the new National
Assembly named Chang Myon prime minister in August. Chang's democratic
but ineffectual government--the Second Republic--lasted until May 1961,
when it was overthrown in an army coup led by Maj. Gen. Park Chung Hee.
After two years of military government under Park, civilian rule was
restored with the advent of the Third Republic in 1963. Park, who had
retired from the army, was elected president. (He was reelected in 1967,
1971, and 1978).
In 1972 a referendum approved the Yushin (revitalizing) constitution,
greatly strengthening presidential and executive branch powers. Key
provisions included indirect election of the president, presidential
appointment of one-third of the National Assembly, and presidential
authority to issue decrees restricting civil liberties in times of
The Park era, marked by rapid industrial modernization and extraordinary
economic growth, ended with his assassination in October 1979. Prime
Minister Choi Kyu Ha assumed office briefly (the Fourth Republic),
promising a new constitution and presidential elections. In December
1979 Maj. Gen. Chun Doo Hwan and close military colleagues staged a coup
in which they removed the army chief of staff and soon effectively
controlled the government.
University student-led demonstrations against this government spread in
the spring of 1980. The government declared martial law in mid-May,
banned all demonstrations, and arrested many political leaders and
dissidents. Special forces units in the city of Kwangju dealt harshly
with those who ignored the ban, setting off a confrontation which left
at least 200 civilians dead. This incident left a wound that has proven
slow to heal. By September 1980, President Choi had been forced to
resign, and General Chun, by then retired from the army, was named
In October 1980, a referendum approved a new constitution, beginning the
Fifth Republic. This Constitution retained key features of earlier ones,
including a strong executive and indirect election of the president, but
limited the chief executive to a single seven-year term. Elections were
held in early 1981 for a National Assembly and an electoral college; the
latter then elected President Chun to a seven-year term (1981-1988).
Although martial law ended in January 1981, the government retained
broad legal powers to control dissent. An active and articulate minority
of students, intellectuals, clergy, and others remained critical of the
Chun government and demonstrated against it.
In April 1986 the president appeared to yield to a signature campaign by
the opposition New Korea Democratic Party (NKDP) that demanded an
amendment to the Constitution that would allow direct election of the
next president. They agreed to eight demands for reform including
constitutional revision, repeal or revision of onerous laws, and release
of political prisoners.
However in June 1987, Chun suspended all discussion of constitutional
revision, and the ruling Democratic Justice Party (DJP) approved Chun's
hand-picked successor, Roh Tae Woo. Students, and then the general
public, took to the streets to protest Chun's suspension of
constitutional revision. On June 29, in a surprise move, ruling party
presidential candidate Roh Tae Woo distanced himself from President Chun
by announcing that he would implement democratic reforms if elected. The
constitution was revised in October to include direct presidential
elections and a strengthened National Assembly consisting of 299
Because of a power struggle, the NKDP soon split into two opposition
parties--Kim Dae Jung's Peace and Democracy Party (PPD) and Kim Young
Sam's Reunification Democratic Party (RDP). In December 1987 Roh Tae Woo
won with 37% of the vote in the first direct presidential election since
1971. Kim Dae Jung and Kim Young Sam, unable to agree on a single
candidate, both ran and lost.
The new constitution entered into force in February 1988, when President
Roh assumed office. Elections for the National Assembly were held on
April 26. President Roh's ruling Democratic Justice Party (DJP) won only
34% of the popular vote, thereby losing control of the Assembly, the
first time this had happened since 1952. The final count was 125 seats
for the DJP, 70 seats for Kim Dae Jung's Party for Peace and Democracy
(PPD), Kim Young Sam's Reunification Democratic Party (RDP) won 59
seats, Kim Jong Pil's New Democratic Republican Party (NDRP) took 35
seats, and 10 seats went to independent candidates.
The new opposition-dominated National Assembly quickly challenged the
president's prerogatives. In July 1988 it turned down President Roh's
choice for chief of the Supreme Court. In the fall, the Assembly
conducted the first government audit in 16 years and began televised
hearings into the practices and policies of former President Chun's
Fifth Republic. By late November, Chun was forced to make a public
apology to the nation, turn over his personal wealth to the nation, and
go into internal exile in a Buddhist temple. In December, the government
and the Assembly for the first time worked together to pass the budget,
which the government had previously handed down.
In January 1990 the three political parties led by President Roh, Kim
Young Sam, and Kim Jong Pil merged. This new alliance left Kim Dae Jung
and his Party for Peace and Democracy (PPD) as the primary opposition,
since the tiny Democratic Party (DP) controlled just eight seats in the
National Assembly. In March 1991 the ROK held its first local elections
in 30 years, electing delegates to local councils but not to local
executive organs, and the trend toward greater democratization continued
to gain momentum.
South Korean politics changed dramatically because of the 1988
legislative elections, the Assembly's greater powers under the 1987
constitution, and the influence of public opinion. In free and fair
elections in December 1992, Kim Young Sam, the former opposition leader,
received 43% of the vote and became Korea's first civilian president in
nearly thirty years. For the first time in recent Korean history, the
losing candidates, Kim Dae Jung of the Democratic Party and former
Hyundai Chairman Chung Ju Yung of the United People's Party,
acknowledged their defeat and congratulated the winner.
Under the mantle of "Building a New Korea," President Kim has introduced
a series of reforms aimed at eradicating the excesses and corruption
that plagued past administrations. Leading a campaign against
corruption, Kim removed several leaders of the military establishment.
Since 1987 there has been significant political liberalization,
including freedom of the press, greater freedoms of expression and
assembly, the release of political prisoners and the restoration of the
civil rights of former detainees.
In June 1995 Korea held direct elections for local and provincial
executive officials (mayors, governors, county and ward chiefs) for the
first time in more than 30 years. Although the ruling LDP won only five
of fifteen major posts, it accepted the results and the election was
widely regarded as a huge step for political progress and democracy in
Korea. At the end of 1995, the LDP changed its name to the New Korea
Principal Government Officials (as of January 1996)
President--Kim Young Sam
Prime Minister--Lee Soo-song
Deputy Prime Minister; National Unification Board Minister--Kwon O-kie
Deputy Prime Minister; Finance and Economy Minister--Rha Woong-bae
Minister of Foreign Affairs--Gong Ro-Myung
Minister of Home Affairs--Kim Woo-suk
Minister of Justice--Ahn Woo-Mahn
Minister of Defense--Lee Yang-Ho
Minister of Education--Ahn Byung-young
Minister of Culture & Sports--Kim Young-soo
Minister of Agriculture, Forestry, & Fisheries--Ghang Wun-Tae
Minister of Trade and Industry--Park Jae-Yoon
Minister of Information and Communication--Lee Suk-chae
Minister of Environment--Chung Chong-tuk
Minister of Construction and Transportation--Choo Kyung-suk
Ambassador to the United States--Park Kun-Woo
Ambassador to the UN--Park Soo-Gil
Speaker of the National Assembly--Hwang Nak Joo
Korea maintains an embassy in the United States at 2450 Massachusetts
Avenue NW., Washington, DC 20008 (tel. 202-939-5600).
Over the past 30 years the Republic of Korea's economic growth has been
spectacular. Despite the need to maintain a large military, South Korea,
one of the world's poorest countries only a generation ago, is now the
United States' eighth largest trading partner and has the 13th largest
economy in the world.
The division of the Korean peninsula in 1945 created two unbalanced
economic units. North Korea inherited most of the peninsula's mineral
and hydroelectric resources and most of the heavy industrial base built
by the Japanese. South Korea was left with a large, unskilled labor pool
and most of the peninsula's limited agricultural resources. Both North
and South suffered massive destruction in the Korean War, but an influx
of refugees added to the South's economic woes. South Korea began the
postwar period with a per capita gross national product (GNP) far below
that of the North. It received large amounts of U.S. foreign assistance
until the 1970s. All direct aid from the United States ended in 1980.
South Korea's meager mineral resources include tungsten, anthracite
coal, iron ore, limestone, kaolinite, and graphite. There is no oil, and
energy is a continuing concern for the ROK's economic planners. An
ambitious program to develop nuclear power is well underway; Korea
presently has nine nuclear plants in operation, with seven others under
The nation's successful industrial growth program began in the early
1960s, when the Park government instituted sweeping economic reforms
emphasizing exports and labor-intensive light industries. The government
also carried out a currency reform, strengthened financial institutions,
and introduced flexible economic planning. In the 1970s Korea began
directing fiscal and financial policies towards promoting heavy and
chemical industries (HCI), as well as consumer electronics and
From 1963 to 1978, real GNP rose at an annual rate of nearly 10%, with
average real growth of more than 11% for the years 1973-78. While
Korea's national production was rising throughout the 1960s and 1970s,
the annual population growth rate declined to slightly below one
percent, resulting in a 20-fold increase in per capita GNP. Per capita
GNP, which reached $100 for the first time in 1963, now exceeds $8,400,
or eight times that of North Korea and is expected to reach $10,000 in
Since 1978, Korea has continued its strong economic growth interspersed
with occasional periods of slow down. From 1979-83 growth slowed in
Korea due largely to the effect of world economic developments,
including the drastic increase in world oil prices in 1979. External
debt was also a serious concern during that period, peaking at $47
billion in 1985. Rapid growth in exports has eased the debt management
problem, a major priority of the government as Korea's external debt
continues to increase.
Economic growth strengthened again beginning in 1983, and from 1986 to
1988 booming exports led to growth rates averaging 12% per year. Current
account surpluses reached a total of $14 billion by the end of 1988, at
which time foreign debt had decreased to $31 billion--18% of GNP and 44%
Korea's global trade and current account surpluses and the bilateral
surplus with the U.S. have declined since 1989, yielding a trade
deficits with the U.S. for the first time in 1994. The appreciation of
the won, increasing labor disputes in the wake of the 1987
democratization, cumulative wage increases, and strong domestic demand
have all contributed to this phenomenon.
At the beginning of the decade, government stabilization policies
clamped down on construction, private consumption and investment.
Consequently, real GNP growth slowed to approximately 5% in 1992.
However, recent increases in private consumption and investment
spending, particularly by the large conglomerates, or chaebol, are
driving a new period of expansion. While annual GDP growth has risen to
7.6 percent (1994) and is expected to exceed 8% in 1995, public
consumption remains low and President Kim has vowed to curb
Following the ROK government's 1988 decision to allow trade with the
DPRK, South Korean firms began to import North Korean goods, all via
third-country contracts. The DPRK has denounced and denied this trade.
Nevertheless, the North publicized a late January 1989 visit by Hyundai
Corporation founder Chung Ju Yong as well as a private protocol he
signed to develop tourism and other projects in the North.
Trade between the two Koreas has increased ten-fold from $18.8 million
in 1989 to $177.9 million in 1993. During this period of greater
economic cooperation, Daewoo's chairman, Kim Woo Choong, visited the
North and an agreement was created to build a light industrial complex
at Nampo. In other negotiations there were discussions to build (re-
establish?) road and rail links in Korea. The first contract directly
negotiated by businessmen of both sides was also signed in the spring of
1993. While inter-Korean trade has continued to grow, tension over North
Korea's nuclear program and the scarcity of foreign currency north of
the border have slowed the rate of growth considerably in recent years.
In 1994 inter-Korean trade measured approximately $200 million.
Although prospects for long-term growth remain bright, there are several
challenges--external and internal--to South Korea's continued economic
ascendancy and prosperity. Historically, much of Korea's prosperity was
achieved through strict adherence to an export-driven market model.
Today Korea must redefine its role in an environment of increasing
economic interdependence shaped by the General Agreement on Trade and
Tariffs (GATT) and the World Trade Organization (WTO). Unreasonably high
tariffs and other trade barriers continue to impede significant progress
in opening the Korean market to foreign products.
Internally, Korea is seeking to transform itself from a low wage/low
technology producer to a high wage/high technology industrialized
country. The success of this transformation hinges to a great degree on
the political success of President Kim's programs of democratization and
reform. Departing from a long history of government-led growth,
President Kim favors a policy of deregulation and greater reliance on
market mechanisms in order to ensure continued growth and prosperity in
the future. As Korea approaches the twenty-first century, its prospects
for continued economic success remain strong.
In August 1991 South Korea joined the United Nations along with North
Korea, and since then has been active in most UN specialized agencies
and many international fora. The Republic of Korea has also hosted major
international events, such as the 1988 Summer Olympics and the 1993
Taejon Expo. In 1994 South Korea announced its candidacy for membership
in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) as
well as for a non-permanent seat on the UN Security Council.
South Korea maintains diplomatic relations with over 170 countries and a
broad network of trading relationships. Former President Roh's policy
of "Nordpolitik"--the pursuit of wide-ranging relations with socialist
nations and contacts and dialogue with North Korea--has been a
remarkable success. The ROK now has diplomatic ties with all the
countries of Eastern and Central Europe, as well as the former Soviet
Republics. The ROK and the People's Republic of China established full
diplomatic relations in August 1992.
Since normalizing relations in 1965, Japan and Korea have developed an
extensive relationship centering on mutually beneficial economic
activity. Although historic antipathies have at times impeded
cooperation, relations at the government level have improved steadily
and significantly in the past several years. Korea, Japan, and the U.S.
consulted extraordinarily closely during U.S.-DPRK negotiations over the
North Korean nuclear issue.
Economic considerations have a high priority in Korean foreign policy.
South Korea is a founding member of the Asia-Pacific Economic
Cooperation (APEC). It seeks to build on its economic accomplishments to
increase its regional and global role, including playing an increasingly
important part in political and economic activities in the Pacific Rim.
Negotiating Efforts with North Korea
Throughout the postwar period, both Korean governments repeatedly
affirmed their desire for reunification of the Korean peninsula, but
until 1971 they had no official communication or other contact. In
August 1971 North and South Korea agreed to hold talks through their
respective Red Cross societies with the aim of reuniting the many Korean
families separated following the division of Korea and the Korean War.
After a series of secret meetings, both sides announced on July 4, 1972
an agreement to work toward peaceful reunification and an end to the
hostile atmosphere prevailing on the peninsula. Officials exchanged
visits, and communications were established through a South-North
coordinating committee and the Red Cross.
These initial contacts broke down and finally ended on August 13, 1973
following President Park Chung Hee's announcement that the South would
seek separate entry into the United Nations, and the kidnapping of South
Korean opposition leader Kim Dae Jung from Tokyo by the South Korean
intelligence service. The breakdown reflected basic differences in
approach, with Pyongyang insisting on immediate steps toward
reunification before discussing specific issues and Seoul maintaining
that, given the long history of mutual distrust, reunification must come
through a gradual, step-by-step process.
Tension between North and South Korea increased dramatically in the
aftermath of the 1983 North Korean assassination attempt on President
Chun in Burma. The bombing in Rangoon killed six members of the ROK
cabinet. South Korea's suspicions of the North's motives were not
diminished when Pyongyang accepted an earlier U.S.-ROK proposal for
"tripartite" talks on the future of the Korean peninsula. This
initiative, made public in January 1984, called for talks with the
United States in which "South Korean authorities" would be permitted to
participate. North Korea proposed to replace the armistice agreement
with a peace treaty, which would provide for withdrawal of all U.S.
troops and set the stage for a declaration of non-aggression between
North and South.
North Korea's provision of relief goods to victims of severe flooding in
South Korea in September 1984 led to revived dialogue on several fronts:
Red Cross talks to address the plight of separated families, economic
and trade talks, and parliamentary talks. However, in January 1986, the
North suspended all talks, arguing that annual ROK/U.S. military
exercises were inconsistent with dialogue. The North also announced a
moratorium on large-scale military exercises and called upon the United
States and Republic of Korea to do the same. The U.S. and the ROK
responded by reiterating their longstanding offer to allow DPRK
officials to observe exercises and by proposing pre-notification of
military exercises. These proposals were rejected by the North, and in
1987 the North resumed large-scale exercises.
In a major initiative on July 7, 1988, South Korean President Roh Tae
Woo called for new efforts to promote exchanges, family reunification,
inter-Korean trade and contact in international fora. President Roh
called on Korea's friends and allies to pursue contacts with the North
and said that the South intended to seek better relations with the USSR
Roh's initiative provided renewed momentum for dialogue. The two sides
met several times at Panmunjom in an unsuccessful attempt to arrange a
joint meeting of the two Korean parliaments. Meetings to discuss
arrangements for prime ministerial-level talks led to a series of such
meetings starting in 1990. In late 1991 the Agreement on Reconciliation,
Non-aggression, Exchanges and Cooperation and the Joint Declaration on
the Denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. The Joint Declaration
called for a bilateral nuclear inspection regime to verify the
denuclearization of the peninsula. When North Korean Deputy Prime
Minister Kim Tal-Hyon visited South Korea for economic talks in July
1992, President Roh Tae Woo announced that full North-South Economic
Cooperation would not be possible without resolution of the North Korean
nuclear issue. There was little progress toward the establishment of an
inspection regime, and dialogue between the South and North stalled in
the fall of 1992.
The North's agreement to accept International Atomic Energy Agency
(IAEA) safeguards in 1992 initiated a series of IAEA inspections of
North Korea's nuclear facilities. This promising development was halted
by the North's refusal to allow special inspections of two areas
suspected of holding nuclear waste, and the North's threat to withdraw
from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), which also brought
North-South progress to an abrupt halt.
After a period of high tension brought on by failure to resolve the
nuclear issue, and Security Council discussion of UN sanctions against
the DPRK, former President Carter's visit to Pyongyang in June 1994
helped to defuse tensions and resulted in renewed South-North talks.
However, the sudden death of North Korean leader Kim Il Sung on July 8,
1994 halted plans for a first ever South-North presidential summit and
led to another period of inter-Korean animosity.
The U.S.-DPRK bilateral talks begun in the spring of 1993 finally
resulted in a framework agreement signed by representatives of both
nations in Geneva on October 21, 1994. This agreed framework committed
North Korea to freeze its graphite-moderated reactor program, which
could be used to produce plutonium for nuclear weapons development. In
return, the DPRK was to receive alternative energy, initially in the
form of heavy oil, and eventually two proliferation-resistant light
water reactors (LWR). The agreement also included gradual improvement of
relations between the U.S. and the DPRK, and committed North Korea to
engage in South-North dialogue. A few weeks after the signing of the
Agreed Framework, President Kim loosened restrictions on South Korean
firms desiring to pursue business opportunities with the North. Although
North Korea continued to refuse official overtures by the South,
economic contacts appeared to be expanding gradually.
The United States is committed to maintaining peace and stability on the
Korean peninsula and agreed in the 1954 U.S.-ROK Mutual Defense Treaty
to help the Republic of Korea defend itself from external aggression. In
support of this commitment, the United States currently maintains about
37,000 service personnel in Korea, including the Army's Second Infantry
Division and several Air Force tactical squadrons. To coordinate
operations between these units and the 650,000-strong Korean armed
forces, a Combined Forces Command (CFC) was established in 1978. The CFC
is headed by General Gary Luck, who also serves as Commander-in-Chief of
the United Nations Command (UNC) and the U.S. Forces in Korea (USFK).
Several aspects of the security relationship are changing as the U.S.
moves from a leading to a supporting role. South Korea has agreed to pay
a larger portion of USFK's stationing costs, and to promote changes in
the CFC command structure. On December 1, 1994 peacetime operational
control authority over all South Korean military units still under U.S.
operational control was transferred to the South Korean Armed Forces.
The United States believes that the question of peace and security on
the Korean peninsula is, first and foremost, a matter for the Korean
people themselves to decide. We are prepared to assist in this process
if the two sides desire.
As Korea's economy has developed, trade has become an increasingly
important aspect of the U.S.-Korea relationship. Korea is currently the
United States' eighth largest trading partner. The U.S. seeks to improve
access to Korea's expanding market and increase investment opportunities
for American business. Although they have met with resistance from
within the Korean bureaucracy, President Kim's economic reform plans
mark a dramatic endorsement of a more liberal, market-based economic
system. Korean leaders appear determined to manage successfully the
complex economic relationship with the United States and to take a more
active role in international economic fora as befits Korea's status as a
major trading nation.
Principal US Officials
Ambassador--James T. Laney
Commander in Chief, UNC--Gen. Gary E. Luck
Deputy Chief of Mission--Charles F. Kartman
Counselor for Political Affairs--Mark C. Minton
Counselor for Economic Affairs--Barbara Griffiths
Counselor for Administrative Affairs--M. Bart Flaherty
Counselor for Public Affairs--William H. Maurer, Jr.
Consul General--Kathryn Dee Robinson
Counselor for Commercial Affairs--Robert S. Connan
Counselor for Agricultural Affairs--David Schoonover
Chief, Joint US Military Advisory Group, Korea (JUSMAG-K)--Col. Keith L.
Defense Attache--Col. William McKinney, U.S. Army
The US Embassy is located at 82 Sejong-Ro, Chongro-Ku, Seoul; Unit
15550, APO AP 96205-0001. Tel. 82-2-397-4114, Fax no. 82-2-738-8845.
The US Agricultural Trade Office is located at 146-1, Susong-dong,
Chongro-Ku, Leema Bldg., Rm. 303, Seoul 110-140. Fax no. 82-2-720-7921.
The US Export Development Office/US Trade Center is c/o US Embassy. Fax
no. 82-2-739-1628. Director: Robert M. Murphy.
Climate and clothing: Korea's temperate, four-season climate is like
that of the eastern U.S. Dress is more conservative than in the United
Visas: Visas are not required of tourists traveling to South Korea if
their stay is less than 15 days or if they are simply transiting the
country and have a ticket for an onward destination. Tourist visas,
which should be obtained from a Korean consulate for longer stays, are
issued for a 5-year period with multiple entries, but the length of any
one visit should not exceed 90 days. Visas are required for all official
and business visitors. All multiple entry visas have a $20.00 processing
fee. No immunizations are required of travelers from the United States.
Health: Health services are fair to good in most major cities. Most
Korean physicians have been trained in Western medicine, and hospital
services are adequate. Outside of the major hotels, water is generally
Transportation: International airports serve Seoul (Kimpo), Pusan
(Kimhae), and Cheju Island. Extensive inter-city air, rail, and bus
service is available. There is an excellent network of local bus, taxi,
and, in Seoul, subway services.
Telecommunications: Seoul is 14 time zones ahead of Eastern Standard
Time (13 hrs. during daylight-saving time). International direct-dial
service is available to Korea's major cities.
These titles are provided as a general indication of the material
published on this country. The Department of State does not endorse
Amsden, Alice H. Asia's Next Giant. New York: Oxford University Press,
Baldwin, Frank, ed. Without Parallel: The American-Korean Relationship
Since 1945. New York: Pantheon Books, 1974.
Clough, Ralph. Embattled Korea: The Rivalry for International Support.
Colorado: Westview Press, 1987.
Cumings, Bruce. The Origins of the Korean War, Vol. 1. Princeton:
Princeton University Press, 1981.
Cumings, Bruce. The Origins of the Korean War, Vol. 2. Princeton:
Princeton University Press, 1990.
Eckert, Carter; Ki-Baik Lee, Young Ick Lew, Michael Robinson, and Edward
W. Wagner. Korea Old and New: A History. Seoul: Ilchokak Publishers
for Harvard University Press, 1990.
Foot, Rosemary. The Wrong War: American Policy and the Dimensions of
the Korean Conflict, 1950-53. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1985.
Han, Woo-kuen. The History of Korea. Hononlulu: East-West Center Press,
Henderson, Gregory. Korea: The Politics of the Vortex. Cambridge:
Harvard University Press, 1968.
Hwang, In K. The Neutralized Unification of Korea. Cambridge:
Kihl, Young Hwan. Politics and Policies in Divided Korea. Colorado:
Westview Press, 1984.
Kim, Hak-joon. The Unification Policy of South and North Korea, 1948-
1976: A Comparative Study. Seoul: Seoul National University Press,
Kim, Joungwon Alexander. Divided Korea: The Politics of Development
1945-1972. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1976.
Koh, Byung Chul. The Foreign Policy Systems of North and South Korea.
Berkeley: University of California, 1984.
Lee, Chong-sik. The Politics of Korean Nationalism. Berkeley: University
of California Press, 1963.
Lee, Ki-baik. A New History of Korea. Cambridge: Harvard University
MacDonald, Donald S. The Koreans: Contemporary Politics and Society.
Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1988.
Merrill, John. Korea: The Peninsular Origins of the War. Newark:
University of Delaware Press, 1988.
Palais, James B. Politics and Policy in Traditional Korea. Cambridge:
Harvard University Press, 1976.
Ridgeway, Matthew B. Korean War. New York: Doubleday, 1964.
Available from the Superintendent of Documents, US Government Printing
Office, Washington, D.C. 20402:
Library of Congress. South Korea: A Country Study. 1992.
Department of State. The Record on Korean Unification 1943-1960. 1961.
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