A north-eastern Asian country. Consisting of the southern half of the Korean peninsula, mostly beneath the 38th parallel, South Korea was formed from the zone occupied by US forces after World War II.
The terrain of South Korea is made up of low hills and wide valleys. Numerous small islands in the sovereign territory of South Korea lie off its western coast, in the Yellow Sea. The climate is milder than in the north of the peninsula.
South Korea has a mixed economy with a successful export-based industrial sector, and an agricultural sector which provides self-sufficiency in food and high yields in rice production. The principal manufacturing industries are petrochemicals, shipbuilding, textiles, and electronics. The chief exports are transport equipment, electrical machinery, footwear, and textiles. There are few minerals except for large tungsten deposits. South Korea suffered economic breakdown in 1997 when the currency collapsed and an IMF rescue plan had to be implemented.
The independent Republic of Korea was proclaimed on 15 August 1948. Badly damaged by the Korean War (1950–53), the South Korean economy was initially restricted by its lack of industrial and power resources and by a severe post-war refugee problem. Unemployment and inflation damaged the reputation of the government of President Rhee, and its increasing brutality and corruption finally led to its overthrow in 1960. After a second civilian government had failed to restore the situation, the army, led by General Park Chung Hee, seized power in 1961. Park, who assumed the powers of a civilian President (1963–79) organized an extremely successful reconstruction campaign which saw South Korea emerge as a strong industrial power, but his repressive policies soon engendered serious unrest. Tension with North Korea remained high during this period, until an agreement between the two governments, signed in July 1972, laid foundations for possible future reunification. Park Chung Hee was assassinated by the head of the South Korean Central Intelligence Agency in a coup in 1979. His successor, General Chun Doo Hwan, continued his policies until forced partially to liberalize the political system after student unrest in 1987. A referendum was held and a new constitution proclaimed. President Roh Tae Woo was elected, and in 1990 his party, the Democratic Justice Party, amalgamated with others to form the Democratic Liberal Party (DLP). Kim Young-Sam was elected President in 1992, the first civilian President for 32 years. A severe financial crisis in 1997 led to the election of former dissident Kim Dae Jung as President in 1998. A cooperation treaty with North Korea was signed in 2000 but relations have since worsened, notably with the North's sinking of a South Korean warship in 2010. Roh Moo-hyun was elected President in 2003 but his tenure proved troubled and he was succeeded by Lee Myung-bak of the Grand National Party in 2008. Roh later committed suicide (2009) after being implicated in a corruption scandal.
Source: MAPS IN MINUTES™ © RH Publications (1997)
99,237 sq km (38,316 sq miles)