South Korea


An independent Korean state or collection of states has existed almost continuously for several millennia. Between its initial unification in the 7th century – from three predecessor Korean states – until the 20th century, Korea existed as a single independent country. In 1905, following the Russo-Japanese War, Korea became a protectorate of imperial Japan, and in 1910 it was annexed as a colony. Korea regained its independence following Japan’s surrender to the United States in 1945.


After World War II, a Republic of Korea (ROK) was set up in the southern half of the Korean Peninsula while a Communist-style government was installed in the north (the DPRK). During the Korean War (1950-53), US troops and UN forces fought alongside soldiers from the ROK to defend South Korea from DPRK attacks supported by China and the Soviet Union. An armistice was signed in 1953, splitting the peninsula along a demilitarized zone at about the 38th parallel.


Location: 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
Population: 48,860,500 (July 2012 est.)
Age structure: 0-14 years: 15.7% (male 3,980,541/female 3,650,631)

15-64 years: 72.9% (male 18,151,023/female 17,400,809)

65 years and over: 11.4% (male 2,259,621/female 3,312,032) (2011 est.)

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: republic
Capital: name: Seoul

geographic coordinates: 37 33 N, 126 59 E

time difference: UTC+9 (14 hours ahead of Washington, DC during Standard Time)

Telephones – main lines in use: 28.543 million (2009)
Telephones – mobile cellular: 50.767 million (2009)
Airports: 114 (2012)
Airports – with paved runways: total: 71

over 3,047 m: 4

2,438 to 3,047 m: 20

1,524 to 2,437 m: 12

914 to 1,523 m: 13

under 914 m: 22 (2012)

Military branches: Republic of Korea Army, Navy (includes Marine Corps), Air Force (2011)
Military service age and obligation:  20-30 years of age for compulsory military service, with middle school education required; conscript service obligation – 21 months (Army, Marines), 23 months (Navy), 24 months (Air Force); 18-26 years of age for voluntary military service; women, in service since 1950, admitted to 7 service branches, including infantry, but excluded from artillery, armour, anti-air, and chaplaincy corps; HIV-positive individuals are exempt from military service (2010)


Since the 1960s, South Korea has achieved an incredible record of growth and integration into the high-tech modern world economy. Four decades ago, GDP per capita was comparable with levels in the poorer countries of Africa and Asia. In 2004, South Korea joined the trillion dollar club of world economies. Today its GDP per capita is roughly the same as that of Greece and Spain. This success was achieved by a system of close government/business ties including directed credit, import restrictions, sponsorship of specific industries, and a strong labour effort.


The government promoted the import of raw materials and technology at the expense of consumer goods and encouraged savings and investment over consumption. The Asian financial crisis of 1997-98 exposed longstanding weaknesses in South Korea’s development model including high debt/equity ratios, massive foreign borrowing, and an undisciplined financial sector. GDP plunged by 6.9% in 1998, and then recovered by 9.5% in 1999 and 8.5% in 2000.

Transnational Issues:

Military Demarcation Line within the 4-km wide Demilitarized Zone has separated North from South Korea since 1953; periodic incidents with North Korea in the Yellow Sea over the Northern Limiting Line, which South Korea claims as a maritime boundary; South Korea and Japan claim Liancourt Rocks (Tok-do/Take-shima), occupied by South Korea since 1954