Asia

South Korea country profile

  • 3 February 2017
  • From the section Asia
Map of South Korea

South Korea has developed into one of Asia's most affluent countries since partition in 1948. The Communist North has slipped into totalitarianism and poverty.

The republic was proclaimed in 1948 and received UN-backed support from the US after it was invaded by the North two years later.

The Korean War ended in 1953 without a peace agreement, leaving South Korea technically at war for more than fifty years.

The following four decades were marked by authoritarian rule, during which government-sponsored schemes encouraged the growth of family-owned industrial conglomerates, including the Hyundai and Samsung groups.

They helped transform South Korea into one of the world's major economies and a leading exporter of cars and electronic goods.

The US has tens of thousands of soldiers in the country.

FACTS

The Republic of Korea

Capital: Seoul

  • Population 48.6 million

  • Area 99,313 sq km (38,345 sq miles)

  • Major language Korean

  • Major religion Buddhism, Christianity

  • Life expectancy 77 years (men), 84 years (women)

  • Currency Won

Getty Images

LEADER

President: Park Geun-hye

Image copyright Getty Images

South Korea elected its first female president, Park Geun-hye, in a close-run contest in December 2012.

Her father President Park Chung-hee, ruled the country for 18 years after seizing power in a coup.

In December 2016, parliament voted to impeach Ms Park, stripping away her executive powers, over a corruption and influence-peddling scandal.

Though powerless, she retains the title of president until South Korea's Constitutional Court rules on whether to uphold the motion.

Prime Minister Hwang Kyo-ahn has been appointed as acting president.

Acting president: Hwang Kyo-ahn

Image copyright AFP

Prime Minister Hwang Kyo-ahn was appointed interim president in December 2016 after parliament voted to impeach President Park Geun-hye.

On assuming the post of acting president, Mr Hwang apologised and said he felt a "deep responsibility" over the political scandal that brought down Ms Park.

He urged ruling and opposition parties to cooperate in order to bring back political stability.

A Park loyalist, he served as justice minister in her administration before becoming prime minister in June 2015.

He is expected to focus on maintaining a stable national security posture, particularly amid prolonged tension with North Korea.

MEDIA

Image copyright EPA

South Korea is at the leading edge of the digital revolution. It is a trailblazer for high-speed and wireless internet.

Around 45 million South Koreans - out of a population of almost 49 million - were online by 2014 (InternetWorldStats).

South Korean TV soaps are popular across the region, including in China. They are part of the "Korean Wave" - the export of South Korean popular culture across Asia.

TIMELINE

Some key dates in South Korea's history:

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption The Korean War between 1950 and 1953 killed at least 2.5 million people

1945 - After Second World War, Japanese occupation ends with Soviet troops occupying area north of the 38th parallel, and US troops in the south.

1948 - Republic of Korea proclaimed.

1950 - South declares independence, sparking North Korean invasion.

1953 - Armistice ends Korean War, which has cost two million lives.

1950s - South sustained by crucial US military, economic and political support.

1960s - Major programme of industrial development.

1988 - First free parliamentary elections.

2002 - Battle between South Korean and North Korean naval vessels along their disputed sea border is only one flare-up in the ongoing tension between the two states.

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