For the most current version of this Note, see Background Notes A-Z.


Republic of Korea

Area: 98,500 sq. km. (38,000 sq. mi.); about the size of Indiana.
Cities (1998): Capital--Seoul (11 million). Other major cities--Pusan (3.9 million), Taegu (2.5 million), Inchon (2.4 million), Kwangju (1.4 million), Taejon (1.3 million).
Terrain: Partially forested mountain ranges separated by deep, narrow valleys; cultivated plains along the coasts, particularly in the west and south.
Climate: Temperate.

Nationality: Noun and adjective--Korean(s).
Population (2000): 47.5 million.
Annual growth rate (2000): 0.93%.
Ethnic groups: Korean; small Chinese minority.
Religions: Christianity, Buddhism, Shamanism, Confucianism, Chondogyo.
Language: Korean.
Education: Years compulsory--9. Enrollment--11.5 million. Attendance--middle school 99%, high school 95%. Literacy--98%. Health (2000 est.): Infant mortality rate--7.85/1,000. Life expectancy--men 70.75 yrs.; women 78.5 yrs.
Work force (1998 est.): 22.0 million. Services--68%; mining and manufacturing--20%; agriculture--12%.

Type: Republic with powers shared between the president and the legislature. Liberation: August 15, 1945.
Constitution: July 17, 1948; last revised 1987.
Branches: Executive--president (chief of state).
Legislative--unicameral National Assembly. Judicial--Supreme Court and appellate courts; Constitutional Court.
Subdivisions: Nine provinces, seven administratively separate cities (Seoul, Pusan, Incheon, Taegu, Kwangju, Taejon, Ulsan).
Political parties: Millennium Democratic Party (MDP); Grand National Party (GNP); United Liberal Democrats (ULD); Democratic People's Party.
Suffrage: Universal at 20.
Central government budget (2000): Expenditures--$101 billion.
Defense (1996): $17 billion, about 3.3% of nominal GDP and 23.3% of government budget (prior to capital expenditures); about 650,000 troops.

Nominal GDP (2001 est.): About $434.5 billion.
GDP growth rate: 2000, 8.8%; 2001 est., 2.7%.
Per capita GNI (2001 est.): $9,019.
Consumer price index: 2000 avg. increase, 2.3%; 2001, 4.6%.
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.
Industry: Types--Mining and manufacturing: textiles, footwear, electronics and electrical equipment, shipbuilding, motor vehicles, petrochemicals, industrial machinery.
Trade (2000): Exports--$175.8 billion: manufactures, textiles, ships, automobiles, steel, computers, footwear. Major markets--U.S., Japan, ASEAN, European Union. Imports--$159.2 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.


Korea's population is one of the most ethnically and linguistically homogenous in the world. Except for a small Chinese community (about 20,000) virtually all Koreans share a common cultural and linguistic heritage. The origins of the Korean people are obscure. At present, the most accepted theory suggests Korea was first populated by a Ural-Altaic peoples who migrated to the peninsula from northwestern Asia, some of whom also settled parts of northeast China (Manchuria).

South Korea's major population centers are in the northwest area and in the fertile plain to the south of Seoul-Incheon. The mountainous central and eastern areas are sparsely inhabited. The Japanese colonial administration of 1910-45 concentrated its industrial development efforts in the comparatively under-populated 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 in 1945. This migration continued after the Republic of Korea was established in 1948 and during the Korean war (1950-53).

About 10% of the people now in the Republic of Korea are of northern origin. With 47 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 Korea has only about 21 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).

The Korean language shares several grammatical features with Japanese, and there are strong similarities with Mongolian, but the exact relationship among these three languages is unclear. Although regional dialects exist, the language spoken throughout the peninsula and in China is comprehensible by all Koreans. Chinese characters (Hanja) were used to write Korean before the Korean Hangul alphabet was invented in the 15th century. Chinese 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, and many educated South Koreans can speak and/or read English, which is taught to all students beginning in primary school.

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. Confucianism remains a dominant cultural influence. Since the Japanese occupation, it has existed more as a shared base than as a separate philosophical/religious school. 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 1995, about 11.7 million Koreans, or 26.3% of the population, were Christians (about 66% of them Protestant)--the largest figure for any East Asian country, except the Philippines.

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 Shilla, Koguryo, and Paekche. Shilla, with the aid of Tang China, unified the peninsula in 668 AD. With its center at Kyongju, the dynasty flourished for roughly three centuries before internal strife and foreign pressures led to its downfall in the 10th century. The Koryo dynasty--from which the Western name "Korea" is derived--succeeded Ssilla in 935. Among the cultural achievements of Koryo was the development of improved ceramics production and the world's first moveable metal type.

Following a military coup in1392, Koryo was supplanted by the Choseon, established by members of the Yi clan and lasted until 1910 when Japan formally annexed the Korean Peninsula. Throughout much of its history, Korea has been invaded, influenced, and fought over by its larger neighbors. It has suffered about 900 invasions during its 2,000 years of recorded history. Korea was under Mongolian occupation from 1231 until the early 14th century and was repeatedly ravaged by Chinese (government and rebel) armies. Beginning in 1592, the Japanese warlord, Hideyoshi, launched several military campaigns to take the peninsula. The Choseon Kingdom managed to repel Hideyoshi's armies with the aid of Ming China. However, the experience impelled the Yi court to choose a policy of foreign isolation, with the exception of China. It was this period of isolationism from which Korea earned the name "The Hermit Kingdom" in the 19th century.

Despite the closed-door-policy of the Choseon dynasty, China retained it position as the major source of influence on Korea, as it has for much of Korean history. Historically, Korea was a part of China's "tribute" system under which Korea maintained its independence but recognized China as a "cultural superior." Although the isolationist policies of the Yi court allowed the Choseon dynasty to maintain stability, the country fell behind international developments and subsequently was given a rude awakening to the new world order that existed in the latter half of the 19th century. Korea's policy of isolationism formally ended when the major Western powers and Japan sent warships to forcibly open the country. At the same time, Japanese, Chinese, and Russian competition in Northeast Asia led to armed conflict, and foreign intervention established dominance in Korea. China's defeat by Japan during the Sino-Japanese War (1894) secured for Japan suzerain rights over Korea. Japan formally annexed 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, most notably the March 1, 1919 Independence Movement, was unsuccessful, and Japan remained firmly in control until the end of World War II. Meanwhile, the so-called Provisional Government of Korea was established in Shanghai, China (1919) by overseas Korean nationalists although their influence on politics was limited following the Japanese suppression of the March 1st Movement.

Toward the conclusion of the Second World War, the participants of the April 1945 Yalta Conference agreed to establish a four-power trusteeship for Korea. The trusteeship of the U.S., U.K., Soviet Union, and China was intended as a temporary administrative measure pending democratic elections for the formation of an official Korean Government. With the unexpected early surrender of Japan in September 1945, the United States proposed--and the Soviet Union agreed--that Japanese troops surrender to U.S. forces below the 38th parallel and to Soviet forces above.

At a December 1945 foreign ministers' conference in Moscow, it was proposed that a 5-year trusteeship be established in Korea. The Moscow conference generated a firestorm of protest in the South. Some of its most critical opponents were Korean leaders associated with the Shanghai Provisional Government. Most notable among them was the nationalist leader Syngman Rhee. 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 of Korea'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. Both administrations claimed to be the only legitimate government on the peninsula.

Armed uprisings in the South and clashes between southern and northern forces along the 38th parallel began and intensified during 1948-50. Although it continued to provide modest military aid to the South, the U.S. withdrew its occupation forces by June 1949, leaving behind only a military advisory group of 500 people.

Korean War of 1950-53
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 Incheon 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.

Although armistice negotiations began in July 1951, hostilities continued until 1953 with heavy losses on both sides. On July 27, 1953, the military commanders of the North Korean Army, the Chinese People's Volunteers, and the UNC signed an armistice agreement at Panmunjom. 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.

Toward Democratization
Syngman Rhee served as president of the Republic of Korea until April 1960, when unrest led by university students forced him to step down. Though the constitution was amended and national elections were held in June, Maj. Gen. Park Chung Hee led an army coup against the successor government and assumed power in May 1961. After 2 years of military government under Park, civilian rule was restored in 1963. Park, who had retired from the army, was elected president and was reelected in 1967, 1971, and 1978 in highly controversial elections.

The Park era, marked by rapid industrial modernization and extraordinary economic growth, ended with his assassination in October 1979. Prime Minister Choi Kyu Ha briefly assumed office, promising a new constitution and presidential elections. However, in December 1979 Maj. Gen. Chun Doo Hwan and close military colleagues staged a coup, removing the army chief of staff and soon effectively controlling the government. University student-led demonstrations against Chun's government spread in the spring of 1980 until the government declared martial law, banning all demonstrations, and arresting many political leaders and dissidents. Special forces units in the city of Kwangju dealt particularly harshly with demonstrators and residents, setting off a chain of events that left at least 200 civilians dead. This became a critically important event in contemporary South Korean political history. Chun, by then retired from the army, officially became president in September 1980. Though martial law ended in January 1981, his government retained broad legal powers to control dissent. Nevertheless, 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 demands for reform, particularly for a constitutional amendment allowing direct election of his successor. 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. In response, students, then followed by the general public, took to the streets in protest. In a surprise move, on June 29, ruling party presidential candidate Roh Tae Woo announced the implementation of democratic reforms. The constitution was revised in October 1987 to include direct presidential elections and a strengthened National Assembly consisting of 299 members.

The main opposition forces soon split into two parties--Kim Dae-jung's Peace and Democracy Party (PPD) and Kim Young Sam's Reunification Democratic Party (RDP). With the opposition vote split, Roh Tae Woo subsequently won the December 1987 presidential election--the first direct one since 1971--with 37% of the vote.

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 was then able to win only 34% of the vote in the April 1988 National Assembly elections--the first time the ruling party had lost control of the Assembly since 1952.

South Korea is a republic with powers shared between the president and the legislature. The president is chief of state and is elected for a term of 5 years. The 273 members of the unicameral National Assembly are elected to 4-year terms. South Korea's judicial system comprises a Supreme Court, appellate courts, and a Constitutional Court. The country has nine provinces and six administratively separate cities--Seoul, Pusan, Inchon, Taegu, Kwangju, and Taejon. Political parties include the Millennium Democratic Party (MDP); Grand National Party (GNP); United Liberal Democrats (ULD); and Democratic People's Party. Suffrage is universal at age 20.

South Korean politics were changed dramatically by the 1988 legislative elections, the Assembly's greater powers under the 1987 constitution, and the influence of public opinion. After 1987 there was 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.

The trend toward greater democratization continued. In free and fair elections in December 1992, Kim Young Sam, the former opposition leader who joined the ruling party of Roh Tae Woo, 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. In August 1996, ex-Presidents Chun and Roh were convicted on corruption and treason charges but were pardoned by President Kim Young Sam in December 1997.

Kim Dae-jung of the National Congress for New Politics (NCNP) won the December 1997 presidential election, defeating Lee Hoi-chang of the renamed ruling party, the Grand National Party (GNP), and the New Party for the People (NPP) candidate Rhee In-je. Kim's 1997 win was the first true opposition party victory in a Korean presidential election. Kim had previously been a political prisoner who narrowly escaped assassination and execution on several occasions, and who spent time in exile in Japan and the U.S. Kim's political opponents have long charged that he was sympathetic to the D.P.R.K., most recently during his presidential election campaign. Such charges are rooted more firmly in Korea's no-holds-barred political culture than in fact.

President Kim's relations with the opposition have often been contentious, reflecting both substantive disagreements with the opposition and the strongly partisan flavor of R.O.K. domestic politics. The GNP remains the largest-single party in the National Assembly. However, in January 2001, President Kim's party, renamed the Millennium Democratic Party (MDP), re-entered into a coalition with the conservative United Liberal Democrats (ULD) led by former Prime Minister Kim Jong-pil. With the MDP-ULD coalition and a commitment from the Democratic People's Party to vote with the coalition, President Kim was able to establish a working plurality in the Assembly in late February 2001.

On his inauguration in February 1998, Kim enunciated an engagement policy toward the North based on the separation of economic and political issues yet taking a firm line on security, with zero tolerance for provocations from the D.P.R.K. This approach has been maintained despite strong domestic criticism from the opposition GNP and occasional provocative behavior by the D.P.R.K., including attempted infiltrations into the South and a clash between D.P.R.K. and R.O.K. naval ships in the Yellow Sea in June 1999, during which several North Korean vessels were damaged or sunk. In 2000, Kim was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his commitment to democracy and his efforts toward reconciliation with the North.

From June 13 to 15, 2000, the leaders of the two Koreas held a historic meeting in Pyongyang and signed a joint declaration promising a visit to Seoul by Kim Jong Il, continuing government-to-government dialogue, reunion of separated family members, cultural exchanges, and the pursuit of reunification. Following the June summit, contacts between the two sides increased, fulfilling some of the meeting's commitments. In addition, four ministerial-level meetings were held, and liaison offices in the truce village of Panmunjom, were reopened on August 14. On September 18, the R.O.K. held a groundbreaking ceremony for the relinking of the Seoul-Sinuiju railway line, which would cross through the Demilitarized Zone. The defense ministers from the R.O.K. and the D.P.R.K. met for the first time September 25-26 on Cheju Island in South Korea. In August and November 2000 and in February 2001, the two Koreas sent delegations of 100 members of separated families to each other's capitals for reunion meetings.

The Fifth North-South Ministerial talks were held in Seoul September 15-18, 2001. The two sides laid out a schedule of meetings, the Sixth Ministerial meeting among others, focusing on implementation of earlier agreements as well as some exchanges, including another round of reciprocal family reunions.

Principal Government Officials
President--Kim Dae-jung
Prime Minister--Lee Han-dong
Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Education and Human Resource Development--Han Wan-sang
Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance and Economy--Jin Nyum
Minister of Agriculture and Forestry--Kim Dong-tae
Minister of Commerce, Industry and Energy--Chang Che-shik
Minister of Construction and Transportation--Ahn Jung-nam
Minister of Culture and Tourism--Namkung Jin
Minister of Environment--Kim Myung-ja
Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade--Han Seung-soo
Minister of Government Administration & Home Affairs--Lee Keun-sik
Minister of Health and Welfare--Kim Won-gil
Minister of Information and Communication--Yang Seung-taik
Minister of Justice--Choi Kyung-won
Minister of Labor Affairs--Yoo Yong-tae
Minister of Maritime Affairs and Fisheries--Yu Sam-nam
Minister of National Defense--Kim Dong-shin
Minister of Science and Technology--Kim Young-hwan
Minister of Unification--Hong Soon-young
Minister of Gender Equality--Han Myung-sook
Director General of National Intelligence Service--Shin Gunn

Korea maintains an embassy in the United States at 2450 Massachusetts Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20008 (tel. 202-939-5600).

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 for many years, but all direct aid from the United States ended in 1980. The Republic of Korea's economic growth over the past 30 years has been spectacular. Per capita GNP, only $100 in 1963, exceeded $10,000 in 1997. One of the world's poorest countries only a generation ago, South Korea is now the United States' eighth-largest trading partner and is the 11th-largest economy in the world.

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, as well as consumer electronics and automobiles. Manufacturing continued to grow rapidly in the 1980s and early 1990s. To meet growing energy demand, Korea has 16 nuclear plants in operation, with two others under construction.

Despite its phenomenal economic success, Korea was not immune to the financial crisis that had befallen much of East and Southeast Asia. In November 1997, Korea followed Thailand and Indonesia in suffering a loss of international investors' confidence, resulting in a severe foreign exchange liquidity crisis. The Korean won lost over 50% of its value against the dollar by the end of 1997, and foreign currency reserves dropped to dangerously low levels. In December 1997, Korea signed an enhanced $58 billion IMF package, including loans from the IMF, World Bank, and the Asia Development Bank. Under the terms of the IMF program, Korea agreed to accelerate the opening of its financial and equity markets to foreign investment and to reform and restructure its financial and corporate sectors to increase transparency, accountability, and efficiency. Since his election in December 1997, President Kim Dae Jung has stressed the need to attract foreign investment and to reduce barriers to both investment and trade.

In the aftermath of the crisis, Korea's GDP shrank 5.8% in real terms in 1998, the worst performance since the Korean war. But the Korean economy bounced back in 1999 with 10.2% GDP growth. Unemployment rose steadily to peak at 8.7% in February 1999, with nearly 1.8 million people unemployed, and an additional half-million working less than 18 hours per week. Unemployment declined to 4.6% as of January 2001. Wages also showed some recovery in the first 4 months of 1999. Private consumption rose 10.3% in 1999, up 11.2% in 2000. Consumer prices rose 3.2% in 2000.

Enormous capital investments made in the 1990s created overcapacity in many industries. For this reason and because of falling demand, investment dropped sharply, as much as 21% in 1998. However, foreign direct investment rose sharply in 1999 to $15.5 billion and $15.7 billion in 2000 as a result of recovery from the 1997-98 economic crisis.

U.S. exports to Korea fell 34.2% in 1998 to $16.5 billion but rose 39.4% in 1999 to $23.0 billion and 24% in 2000 to $28.0 billion. Korea is the United States' sixth-largest export market. The U.S. is Korea's largest export market--followed by the EU and Japan. Korea's exports to the U.S. were $31.2 billion in 1999 and rose 29% to $40.3 billion in 2000.

Many of Korea's large industrial/commercial conglomerates, known as "chaebol" in Korean, continue to hold excessive debt and nonmarket-based investments. The high-profile problems of Daewoo, Korea's second-largest conglomerate, have highlighted these weaknesses. Corporate restructuring, banking reform, and regulatory transparency are central to Korea's continued economic recovery. Despite these setbacks, chaebols continue to dominate the Korean economy: the four largest of these companies accounted for nearly 40% of all Korean exports.

North-South Trade
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. Trade between the two Koreas increased from $18.8 million in 1989 to $425 million in 2000, much of it involving processing or assembly work undertaken in the North as well as aid. The North publicized a number of visits since 1989 by Hyundai Corporation founder Chung Ju Yong, as well as a private protocol he signed in 1998 to develop tourism and other projects in the North. Since 1998, more than 370,000 visitors have traveled by Hyundai-operated passenger ships to scenic Mount Kumgang (Diamond Mountain) in the North as part of this tourism initiative.

In 2001, Hyundai Asan proposed that the D.P.R.K. allow the reconnection of a roadway along the east coast to allow land access to the Mount Kumgang area and also has asked the D.P.R.K. to declare the area a Special Tourism Zone. During this decade, the chairman of the South Korean company Daewoo visited the D.P.R.K. and reached agreement on building a light industrial complex at Nampo. In other negotiations, Hyundai Asan obtained permission to construct an 800-acre industrial complex at Kaesong, near the DMZ, at a cost of more than $1 billion.

In response to the June inter-Korean summit, the D.P.R.K. and the R.O.K. agreed in August 2000 to reconnect the Seoul-Sinuiju railroad. In addition, the two governments said they would build a four-lane highway bypassing the truce village at Panmunjom, with the goal of providing the Kaesong industrial park with ready access to South Korean markets and ports.

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 forums. The Republic of Korea also has hosted major international events such as the 1988 Summer Olympics and has been selected to co-host the 2002 World Cup (with Japan). In addition, the country became a member of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) in 1996 and completed a term as a nonpermanent member on the UN Security Council at the end of 1997.

The Republic of 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 wideranging relations with socialist nations and contact 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, most recently being Japan's approval of controversial history textbooks despite criticisms from Korea, relations at the government level have improved steadily and significantly in the past several years. Korea, Japan, and the U.S. consult very closely on North Korea policy.

Economic considerations have a high priority in Korean foreign policy. The R.O.K. seeks to build on its economic accomplishments to increase its regional and global role, including playing an increasingly important part in Pacific Rim political and economic activities. It is a founding member of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum.

Korean Peninsula: Reunification Efforts Since 1971
Though both Korean Governments have repeatedly affirmed their desire for reunification of the Korean Peninsula, the two had no official communication or other contact until 1971. At that time they 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 an agreement in 1972 to work toward peaceful reunification and an end to the hostile atmosphere prevailing on the peninsula. These initial contacts ended in August 1973 following President Park's announcement that the R.O.K. 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, which 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, in which "South Korean authorities" would be permitted to participate. 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 resumed its own largescale exercises in 1987.

In July 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. The two sides then 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, Nonaggression, Exchanges and Cooperation and the Joint Declaration on the Denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. Nevertheless, there was little progress toward the establishment of a bilateral nuclear inspection regime, and dialogue between the South and North stalled in the fall of 1992.

In 1992 the North agreed to accept International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) safeguards as well as a series of IAEA inspections of North Korea's nuclear facilities. However, in practice, the North refused to allow special inspections of two areas suspected of holding nuclear waste and threatened to withdraw from the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT)--bringing North-South progress to an abrupt halt. After a period of high tension brought on by failure to resolve the nuclear issue, as well as UN Security Council discussion of 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.

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. 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. The accord reached at Geneva, more commonly referred to as the Agreed Framework, committed North Korea to freeze its graphite-moderated reactors and related facilities at Yongbyon and Taechon, 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 fuel oil (HFO), and eventually two proliferation-resistant light water reactors (LWR).

The 1994 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 Young Sam loosened restrictions on South Korean firms wanting to pursue business opportunities with the North. Although North Korea continued to refuse official overtures by the South, economic contacts appeared to expand gradually. Shortly after his inauguration, President Kim Dae-jung declared that restraints on investment and communication with North Korea by private entities would be significantly eased. As a result, the Hyundai Corporation has embarked upon an investment plan in North Korea worth approximately $1 billion.

In recent 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 (KEDO). Among KEDO's principal tasks is to implement the LWR and HFO commitments of the Agreed Framework. Since its inception, 11 other countries have joined KEDO, making the organization truly international. The 15-member European Union joined KEDO and became an executive board member on September 19, 1997.

On December 15, 1995, KEDO and the D.P.R.K. concluded a Supply Agreement governing the implementation of the LWR project and continue to negotiate the various protocols and other instruments specifying the details of the project. KEDO broke ground for the project on August 15, 1997, and site preparation work has continued since then. In December 1999, KEDO and its R.O.K.-based prime contractor, the Korean Electric Power Corporation (KEPCO), signed the Turnkey Contract, permitting construction to begin in earnest. The U.S. Department of Energy on April 21, 2000, completed the safe storage under IAEA seal of North Korea's accessible spent nuclear fuel rods and rod pieces. The freeze on North Korea's graphite-moderated reactors and related facilities has now been in effect since November 1994.

The Agreed Framework prohibits the construction of any new graphite-moderated reactors or related facilities. The administration became concerned about reports in mid-1998 of possible surreptitious nuclear-related construction activity at an underground site and engaged the D.P.R.K. intensively on the issue. The administration made clear to the D.P.R.K. that the future of the Agreed Framework and of our bilateral relationship hinged on the satisfactory resolution of this issue and that a solution would require multiple access by the United States to the suspect site to remove U.S. suspicions. After four difficult rounds of negotiations, on March 16, 1999, the U.S. and D.P.R.K. agreed to an arrangement that provides for visits by a team of U.S. experts to the suspect site. A U.S. delegation visited this site in May 1999, with a second visit in May 2000.

During the May 1999 visit to the suspect underground construction site, the U.S. team found a large, empty underground tunnel complex. Based on the visit, the team determined that the site did not contain a plutonium production reactor or reprocessing plant, either completed or under construction; that it was unsuitable for the installation of a plutonium production reactor, especially a graphite-moderated reactor of the type built previously by the D.P.R.K.; and that it is not well-designed for a reprocessing plant. The U.S. team did not rule out the possibility that the site was intended for other nuclear-related uses, although it did not appear to be configured to support any large industrial nuclear functions. A subsequent technical review by the intelligence community confirmed these findings.

The second U.S. visit, in May 2000, reaffirmed these conclusions. In an October 12 Joint Communiqu�, signed at the conclusion of the U.S. visit of D.P.R.K. Vice Marshal Jo Myong Rok, the National Defense Commission First Vice Chairman, the U.S. announced that, via access to the site, U.S. concerns about the site had been "removed." In conjunction with Vice Marshal Jo's October visit to the U.S., the D.P.R.K. and the U.S. issued a joint statement on terrorism. And, then-Secretary Albright visited Pyongyang later that month for discussions regarding missiles, weapons of mass destruction, and other issues.

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. Following six preparatory meetings, the first four-party plenary session took place in Geneva in December 1997, with subsequent sessions in March 1998, October 1998, January 1999, April 1999, and August 1999. Beginning in January 1999, the four parties focused their efforts on achieving progress in two subcommittees focusing respectively on tension reduction on the Korean Peninsula and the establishment of a permanent peace regime there that would replace the 1953 military armistice.

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 to decide. The U.S. is prepared to assist in this process if the two sides so desire.

In the 1954 U.S.-R.O.K. Mutual Defense Treaty, the United States agreed to help the Republic of Korea defend itself against external aggression. In support of this commitment, the United States currently maintains approximately 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 head of the CFC 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.

As Korea's economy has developed, trade has become an increasingly important aspect of the U.S.-Korea relationship. The U.S. seeks to improve access to Korea's expanding market and increase investment opportunities for American business. The implementation of structural reforms contained in the IMF's 1998 program for Korea should improve access to the Korean market. Korean leaders appear determined to successfully manage 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. Embassy Officials
Ambassador--Thomas C. Hubbard
Commander in Chief, UNC--Gen. Thomas Schwartz
Deputy Chief of Mission--Evans J.R. Revere
Counselor for Political Affairs--W. David Straub
Counselor for Economic Affairs--Frederic W. Maerkle
Counselor for Administrative Affairs--James A. Forbes
Counselor for Public Affairs--Stephen R. Rounds
Consul General--Richard C. Hermann
Counselor for Commercial Affairs--John Petersv Counselor for Agricultural Affairs--Grant A. Pettrie
Chief, Joint U.S. Military Advisory Group, Korea (JUSMAG-K)--Col. Claude Crabtree
Defense Attache--Col. Thomas R. Riley, U.S. Army
Drug Enforcement Administration Special Agent in Charge--Christopher Browning
Foreign Broadcast Information Service Seoul Bureau Chief--Sidney Seiler
Immigration and Naturalization Service--Stephen P. Bows
Customs Service Customs Attache--Celmouth Stewart Jr. Federal Bureau of Investigation
Legal Attache--Lee Sung-kyu

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 82-2-720-7921. The U.S. Export Development Office/U.S. Trade Center is c/o U.S. Embassy; fax 82-2-739-1628. Its director is Camille Sailer.

Additional Resources. The following general country guides are available from the Superintendent of Documents, U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington, DC 20402:

Library of Congress. North Korea: A Country Study. 1994.
Department of State. The Record on Korean Unification 1943-1960. 1961.
Department of the Army. Communist North Korea: A Bibliographic Survey. 1971.

Internet Resources on North and South Korea. The following sites are provided to give an indication of Internet sites on Korea. The Department of State does not endorse unofficial publications, including Internet sites.

--R.O.K. Embassy--
--Korea Society-- --links to academic and other sites.
--Nautilus Institute--; produced by the Nautilus Institute in Berkeley, California, and includes press round-up Monday through Friday.
--Korea Web Weekly-- to North Korean sites.
--Korea Herald--; South Korean English-language newspaper.
--Korea Times--; South Korean English-language newspaper.
--(North) Korean Central News Agency--
--Korean Politics--; provides information on South Korean politics and links to South Korean Government sites.

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