U.S. Department of State
Background Notes: Korea, November 1997
Released by the Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs
OFFICIAL NAME: Republic of Korea
Area: 98,500 sq. km. (38,000 sq. mi.); about the size of Indiana.
Cities: Capital-Seoul: 10.9 million. Other major cities: Pusan-3.8
million; Taegu-2.2 million; Inchon-2.1 million; Kwanju-2 million;
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 (1995): 45.5 million. Annual growth rate (1994): 1.04%.
Ethnic groups: Korean; small Chinese minority.
Religions: Christianity, Buddhism, Shamanism, Confucianism, Chondogyo.
Education: Years compulsory-9. Enrollment-11.5 million. Attendance-
middle school 99%, high school 95%. Literacy-96%.
Health: Infant mortality rate-22/1,000. Life expectancy men 68 yrs.,
women 75 yrs.
Work force : 21.5 million. Services-61%. Mining and manufacturing-24%.
Type: Republic with powers shared between the president and the
Independence: August 15, 1948. Constitution: July 17, 1948; last revised
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 (1995): Expenditures-$65.8 billion.
Defense (1995): $14 billion, about 3.3% of nominal GDP and 23.3% of
about 650,000 troops.
Nominal GDP (1997): $476 billion (est.).
GDP growth rate (1997): 6.2% (est.).
Per capita GNP (1997): $10,530. Consumer price index (1997 avg.
Natural resources: Limited coal, tungsten, iron ore, limestone,
kaolinite, and graphite.
Agriculture (including forestry and fisheries): Products-rice,
vegetables, fruit. Arable land-22% of land area.
Mining and manufacturing: Textiles, footwear, electronics and electrical
equipment, shipbuilding, motor vehicles, petrochemicals, industrial
Trade: Exports-$140 billion: manufactures, textiles, ships, automobiles,
steel, computers, footwear. Major markets-U.S., Japan, ASEAN, European
Union. Imports-$147 billion: crude oil, food, machinery and
transportation equipment, chemicals and chemical products, base metals
and articles. Major suppliers-Japan, U.S., European Union, Middle East.
Exchange rate (Nov. 1997): 964.5 won = U.S.$1
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
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 only about 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 Union (450,000).
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 Buddhism and Shamanism. 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
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 more
than 1 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
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
the Western name "Korea" is derived) 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 1597. 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 (R.O.K.) was established. Syngman Rhee became the
republic's first president. On September 9, 1948, the Democratic
People's Republic of Korea (D.P.R.K.) was established in the north
under Kim Il Sung.
Guerrilla fighting in the south and clashes between southern and
northern forces along the 38th parallel intensified during 1948-50.
Although it continued to provide modest military aid to the south, the
U.S. withdrew its occupation forces, leaving behind a 500-man Military
Advisory Group by June 1949.
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 cease-fire
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 D.P.R.K. 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 and 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 (1981-88).
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 handpicked 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 members.
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.
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. Since 1987 there has
been significant political liberalization, including greater freedom of
the press, greater freedoms of expression and assembly, and the
restoration of the civil rights of former detainees.
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 cooperatively to
pass the budget.
In January 1990 the three political parties led by President Roh, Kim
Young Sam, and Kim Jong Pil merged to form the Democratic Liberal Party
(DLP). This new alliance left Kim Dae Jung and his Party for Peace and
Democracy (PPD) as the primary opposition. In March 1991 the R.O.K. 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. In free and fair
elections in December 1992, Kim Young Sam, the former opposition leader
now leading the DLP, received 43% of the vote and became Korea's first
civilian president in nearly 30 years.
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 DLP won only five
of 15 major posts, it accepted the results and the process of 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 Party (NKP).
During the fall of 1997, the presidential campaign took place to elect a
successor to Kim Young Sam on December 18. Major candidates included
Lee Hoi Chang of the NKP, Kim Dae Jung of the National Congress for New
Politics (NCNP), Kim Jong Pil of the United Liberal Democrats (ULD), Cho
Soon of the Democratic Party, and People's New Party candidate Rhee In
Principal Government Officials (September 1997)
President: Kim Young Sam
Prime Minister: Koh Kun
Deputy Prime Minister, National Unification Board Minister: Kwon O Kie
Deputy Prime Minister, Finance and Economy Minister: Kang Kyong Shik
Minister of Foreign Affairs: Yoo Chong Ha
Minister of Home Affairs: Cho Hae Nyoung
Minister of Justice: Kim Jong Koo
Minister of Defense: Kim Dong Jin
Minister of Education: Lee Myung Hyun
Minister of Culture & Sports: Song Tae Ho
Minister of Agriculture, Forestry, & Fisheries: Lee Hyo Gae
Minister of Trade and Industry: Lim Chang Yuel
Minister of Information and Communication: Kang Bong Kyun
Minister of Environment: Yoon Yeo Joon
Minister of Construction and Transportation: Lee Hwan Kyun
Ambassador to the United States: Park Kun Woo
Ambassador to the UN: Park Soo Gil
Speaker of the National Assembly: Kim Soo Han
Korea maintains an embassy in the United States at 2450 Massachusetts
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' seventh-largest trading partner and has the 11th-
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 R.O.K.'s economic planners.
An ambitious program to develop nuclear power is well underway; Korea
currently has twelve nuclear plants in operation, with four 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 toward promoting
heavy and chemical industries (HCI), as well as consumer electronics
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 1%,
resulting in a 20-fold increase in per capita GNP. Per capita GNP,
which reached $100 for the first time in 1963, now exceeds $10,000, or
ten times that of North Korea.
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 effects 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% of exports.
Korea's global trade and current account surpluses and the bilateral
surplus with the U.S. have declined since 1989, yielding a trade
deficit with the U.S. for the first time in 1994. A stronger won, labor
disputes in the wake of the 1987 democratization, cumulative wage
increases, and strong domestic demand all contributed to this
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.
Increases in private consumption and investment spending, particularly
by the large conglomerates, or chaebol, drove a new period of expansion
peaking in 1995, when annual GDP growth reached 9%. A drop in GDP
growth to 6.2% in 1997 has created concern in Korea that its
international competitiveness is declining.
Following the R.O.K.'s 1988 decision to allow trade with the D.P.R.K.,
South Korean firms began to import North Korean goods, all via third-
country contracts. The D.P.R.K. does not acknowledge 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 increased 16-fold from $18.8 million in 1989 to $310
million in 1995. During this period of greater economic cooperation,
Daewoo's chairman, Kim Woo Choong, visited the North and an agreement
was reached to build a light industrial complex at Nampo. In other
negotiations there were discussions to establish road and rail links
between the two Koreas. The first contract directly negotiated by
businesspeople of both sides was signed in the spring of 1993. While
inter-Korean trade has remained substantial, military tensions and
economic problems in North Korea have contributed to a slowdown. In
1996 inter-Korean trade measured approximately $250 million.
Although prospects for long-term growth remain bright, there are several
challenges-external and internal-to South Korea's continued economic
progress. 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 as a member of the World Trade Organization (WTO) and
the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). High
tariffs and other trade barriers continue to impede progress in opening
the Korean market to foreign products.
Internally, Korea is seeking to transform itself into a high wage/high
technology industrialized country. The success of this transformation
hinges to a great degree on the success of current policies stressing
liberalization, reform and globalization. Departing from a long history
of government-led growth, the current administration favors a policy of
deregulation and greater reliance on market mechanisms to ensure
continued growth and prosperity in the future. As Korea approaches the
21st century, its prospects for continued economic success remain
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 more than 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 R.O.K. now has diplomatic ties with all the
countries of Eastern and Central Europe, as well as the former Soviet
Republics. The R.O.K. 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.-D.P.R.K. 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) forum. 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 R.O.K.
cabinet. South Korea's suspicions of the North's motives were not
diminished when Pyongyang accepted an earlier U.S.-R.O.K. 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 R.O.K./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 the Republic of Korea to do the same. The
U.S. and the R.O.K. responded by reiterating their longstanding offer
to allow D.P.R.K. 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
U.S.S.R. and China.
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 two sides signed 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 D.P.R.K., 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.-D.P.R.K. bilateral talks which began 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 reactors and
related facilities, which could be used to produce plutonium for nuclear
weapons development. In addition, under the Agreed Framework, North
Korea agreed to hold expert talks with the U.S. to decide on specific
arrangements for the storage of the D.P.R.K.'s spent nuclear fuel rods
(which otherwise could be reprocessed into weapons-grade plutonium). In
return, the D.P.R.K. 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 D.P.R.K., 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.
In the past three years, several milestones have been reached regarding
the implementation of the Agreed Framework. On March 9, 1995, the
Governments of the United States, Republic of Korea and Japan agreed to
establish the Korean Peninsula Energy Development Organization, commonly
referred to as KEDO. KEDO's task is to implement the LWR and heavy fuel
oil (HFO) commitments of the Agreed Framework. Since its inception,
eight other countries have joined KEDO, making the organization truly
international. On December 15, 1995, KEDO concluded a Supply Agreement
with the D.P.R.K. concerning the details of implementing the LWR
project. Six protocols to the Supply Agreement have already been
concluded over the past two years. Groundbreaking on the LWR project
took place on August 19, 1997. The 15-member European Union joined KEDO
and become an executive board member on September 19, 1997. The safe
storage of North Korea's spent nuclear fuel rods was essentially
completed by the U.S. Department of Energy at the end of October 1997.
Finally, the freeze on North Korea's graphite-moderated reactors and
related facilities has been in effect since November 1994.
On April 16, 1996, Presidents Clinton and Kim invited the D.P.R.K. and
the People's Republic of China to participate in Four Party peace talks
with the U.S. and R.O.K. on the future of the Korean peninsula. North
Korea subsequently agreed to attend a joint briefing in New York on the
Four Party initiative, which took place in March 1997. The four parties
later convened again in New York for two rounds of preliminary peace
talks in August and September 1997, but have not yet reached agreement
on an agenda for full Four Party peace talks. The Four Party initiative
remained on the table, however, with contacts continuing among the four
parties to realize formal talks.
The United States is committed to maintaining peace and stability on the
Korean peninsula and agreed in the 1954 U.S.-R.O.K. 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 Gen. Gary Luck, who also serves as Commander-in-
Chief of the United Nations Command (UNC) and the U.S. Forces in Korea
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
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. The U.S. is prepared to assist in this
process if the two sides so 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 U.S. Officials
Ambassador: Stephen W. Bosworth
Commander in Chief, UNC: Gen. John Tilelli
Deputy Chief of Mission: Richard A. Christenson
Counselor for Political Affairs: James Whitlock
Counselor for Economic Affairs: Ben Fairfax
Counselor for Administrative Affairs: Catherine M. Smith
Counselor for Public Affairs: Jeremy Curtin
Consul General: Kathryn Dee Robinson
Counselor for Commercial Affairs: Jerry K. Mitchell
Counselor for Agricultural Affairs: William Brant
Chief, Joint U.S. Military Advisory Group, Korea (JUSMAG-K): Col. Thomas
Defense Attache: Col. Robert Elliott, U.S. Army
The U.S. embassy is located at 82 Sejong-Ro, Chongro-Ku, Seoul; Unit
15550, APO AP 96205-0001. (tel. 82-2-397-4114; fax: 82-2-738-8845. The
U.S. 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 U.S. Export Development Office/U.S. Trade Center is c/o U.S.
Embassy. fax no. 82-2-739-1628. Director: Camille Sailer.
TRAVEL AND BUSINESS INFORMATION
The U.S. Department of State's Consular Information Program provides
Travel Warnings and Consular Information Sheets. Travel Warnings are
issued when the State Department recommends that Americans avoid travel
to a certain country. Consular Information Sheets exist for all
countries and include information on immigration practices, currency
regulations, health conditions, areas of instability, crime and
security, political disturbances, and the addresses of the U.S. posts in
the country. Public Announcements are issued as a means to disseminate
information quickly about terrorist threats and other relatively short-
term conditions overseas which pose significant risks to the security of
American travelers. Free copies of this information are available by
calling the Bureau of Consular Affairs at 202-647-5225 or via the fax-
on-demand system: 202-647-3000. Travel Warnings and Consular Information
Sheets also are available on the Consular Affairs Internet home page:
http://travel.state.gov and the Consular Affairs Bulletin Board (CABB).
To access CABB, dial the modem number: (301-946-4400 (it will
accommodate up to 33,600 bps), set terminal communications program to N-
8-1 (no parity, 8 bits, 1 stop bit); and terminal emulation to VT100.
The login is travel and the password is info (Note: Lower case is
required). The CABB also carries international security information from
the Overseas Security Advisory Council and Department's Bureau of
Diplomatic Security. Consular Affairs Trips for Travelers publication
series, which contain information on obtaining passports and planning a
safe trip abroad, can be purchased from the Superintendent of Documents,
U.S. Government Printing Office, P.O. Box 371954, Pittsburgh, PA 15250-
7954; telephone: 202-512-1800; fax 202-512-2250.
Emergency information concerning Americans traveling abroad may be
obtained from the Office of Overseas Citizens Services at (202) 647-
5225. For after-hours emergencies, Sundays and holidays, call 202-647-
Passport Services information can be obtained by calling the 24-hour, 7-
day a week automated system ($.35 per minute) or live operators 8 a.m.
to 8 p.m. (EST) Monday-Friday ($1.05 per minute). The number is 1-900-
225-5674 (TDD: 1-900-225-7778). Major credit card users (for a flat rate
of $4.95) may call 1-888-362-8668 (TDD: 1-888-498-3648)
Travelers can check the latest health information with the U.S. Centers
for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, Georgia. A hotline at
(404) 332-4559 gives the most recent health advisories, immunization
recommendations or requirements, and advice on food and drinking water
safety for regions and countries. A booklet entitled Health Information
for International Travel (HHS publication number CDC-95-8280) is
available from the U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington, DC
20402, tel. (202) 512-1800.
Information on travel conditions, visa requirements, currency and
customs regulations, legal holidays, and other items of interest to
travelers also may be obtained before your departure from a country's
embassy and/or consulates in the U.S. (for this country, see "Principal
Government Officials" listing in this publication).
U.S. citizens who are long-term visitors or traveling in dangerous areas
are encouraged to register at the U.S. embassy upon arrival in a country
(see "Principal U.S. Embassy Officials" listing in this publication).
This may help family members contact you in case of an emergency.
Further Electronic Information:
Department of State Foreign Affairs Network. Available on the Internet,
DOSFAN provides timely, global access to official U.S. foreign policy
information. Updated daily, DOSFAN includes Background Notes; Dispatch,
the official magazine of U.S. foreign policy; daily press briefings;
Country Commercial Guides; directories of key officers of foreign
service posts; etc. DOSFAN's World Wide Web site is at .
U.S. Foreign Affairs on CD-ROM (USFAC). Published on a semi-annual basis
by the U.S. Department of State, USFAC archives information on the
Department of State Foreign Affairs Network, and includes an array of
official foreign policy information from 1990 to the present. Contact
the Superintendent of Documents, U.S. Government Printing Office, P.O.
Box 371954, Pittsburgh, PA 15250-7954. To order, call (202) 512-1800 or
fax (202) 512-2250.
National Trade Data Bank (NTDB). Operated by the U.S. Department of
Commerce, the NTDB contains a wealth of trade-related information. It is
available on the Internet () and on CD-ROM. Call the NTDB Help-Line at
(202) 482-1986 for more information.
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