South Korea’s history begins in 1948, when Korea was split in two. South Korea was proclaimed its own state on August 15, 1948 with Syngman Rhee as president. In 1950, the Korean War broke out; ceasefire was terminated in July 1953. After three years of hard fighting, enormous destruction and millions of fallen, a ceasefire agreement was negotiated at roughly the original limit.
Democracy in South Korea has been fragile, and after the coups in both 1961 and 1979, the country was ruled by authoritarian, military-dominated regimes. Slowly a democratic movement with wide support in the people emerged, and in 1993, for the first time, a president without a military background was elected in direct elections.
- Countryaah: Check to see the location of South Korea on the world map. Also covers major mountains, rivers and lakes in South Korea.
Relations with North Korea have been tense since the Korean War, with occasional provocations and minor clashes. Former President Kim Dae Jung (1925-2009), with his “sunshine policy”, sought to establish constructive talks with North Korea. In 2008, conservative Lee Myung-bak was elected South Korea’s 10th president. He lay on a tougher line against the regime in the north. This has increased the tension between the two countries.
Supported by Americans, Syngman Rhee has long been the dominant political figure in South Korea. He was re-elected president for the last time in 1960, aged 85. Shortly after the last election, he was overthrown by vigorous demonstrations against electoral fraud and corruption in his authoritarian regime. The new civilian regime was overthrown in 1961 by a military junta led by General Park Chung Hee, who in 1963 was elected by a hardly majority in 1963 as president of the so-called 3rd Republic. He was subsequently re-elected several times. In 1972 he introduced a state of emergency, and the same year South Korea got a new constitution, called the yushin (the “revitalization reform “). From here, the 4th Republic is counted. To see more information other than history, please visit Abbreviationfinder to learn more about climate, population, government, and economy for the country of South Korea.
Park ruled with strict security laws citing suspected war danger from North Korea. After 18 years of authoritarian rule, he was assassinated in October 1979 by South Korea’s security chief, Kin Jae Kyu, who was sentenced to death and executed.
The commander of the army intelligence, General Chon Too Hwan, seized power at a coup that same year. He was elected president in 1980 and continued his authoritarian rule until 1988. During violent demonstrations in 1987, the opposition won the demand for direct presidential elections, without access to re-election. General Roh Tae Woo won the election that year; opposition voices were split between the protagonists Kim Young Sam and Kim Dae Jung.
Demilitarization of society
In 1988, Seoul organized the Olympic Summer Games in a heated political atmosphere, but without any particular disturbance. In 1990, the ruling party merged with the two major opposition parties, one led by Kim Young Sam. Kim won the presidential election in December 1992 and became South Korea’s first head of state in 31 years without military background.
After the military dominated most areas of social life since the 1960s, Kim Young Sam conducted a demilitarization of the administration. The basis for the new policy was a constitutional amendment in 1988 that limited the political influence of the military.
In the 1992 presidential election, only civilian candidates participated. In tandem with the liberalization of political life from the late 1980s, a number of new parties emerged. The 1990s were characterized by ever-changing alliances. In 1995, former opposition veteran Kim Dae Jung returned to politics and founded the National Congress of New Politics, which immediately became the largest opposition party.
A campaign against corruption marked Kim Young Sam’s first year in power. In 1995, ex-president Roh Tae Woo was investigated for information from his former security chief about a giant political “lubrication fund”. This triggered a demand for scrutiny also by predecessor Chon Too Hwan; and legal spotlight was put on the military coup in 1979 and a bloody military action against rebellious students in Kwangju in 1980. Chon was sentenced to death but then pardoned. Roh received 22 years in prison, later reduced to 17 years, for participating in the military action and for receiving hundreds of millions of dollars in bribes from industrial leaders for a political “lubrication fund”.
The 1996 parliamentary elections were won by the ruling party, which had renamed the New Korea Party, with reduced mandates, 139 out of 300. A new corruption affair with political explosiveness shook South Korea in 1997. The country’s second largest steel producer, Hanbo Steel Co, was declared bankruptcy after questionable loan transactions of colossal scale. The scandal led to a government crisis and judicial review by leading politicians. Kim Dae Jung won the 1997 presidential election and pursued an active reconciliation policy over North Korea, the so-called sunshine policy.
Roh Moo Hyun from the left-leaning Democratic Millennium Party won the presidential election in December 2002. In March 2003, he was sued by the National Assembly’s conservative majority for alleged violations of the electoral law. Roh struck back with a sensational victory in the parliamentary elections in April: The president’s newly formed Uri party more than tripled the mandate from 49 to 152.
The valgtrium fin was designated as a line change to the left; for the first time since 1961, the Conservatives had lost the parliamentary majority. In May, the first trial in South Korea’s history was rejected by the Constitutional Court; Roh Moo Hyun was thus re-elected to the presidency. In the 1990s, Koreans had begun to elect Liberal presidents, but Roo was the first to not have a conservative parliamentary majority against him.
Political right turn
After the political left has been leading since 1992, a significant right turn occurred in 2007. This year, the Conservative Grand National Party (GNP) – with Lee Myung Bak in the lead – won both the presidential and majority elections in parliament. After two center-left presidents on the political scale, South Korea now has a more right-wing head of state. His main election promise was to accelerate faster economic growth, based on a business-oriented growth and reform policy. Lee had previously made a career in business as chief executive of one of the nation’s largest industrial companies (Hyundai Constructions).
Among ten presidential candidates, Lee collected 48.7 percent of the vote. He gained popular popularity and the nickname “The Bulldozer” as a powerful mayor of Seoul (2002-07). Chung Dong Young of the United New Democratic Party (UNDP) gained 26.2 percent. The party is the heir to the moderate leftist URI party, which won a superb victory in the 2004 election – and then disintegrate during fierce factional battles.
President Lee soon faced domestic and foreign policy challenges that significantly weakened his popularity. Immediately after the inauguration, there was fierce controversy over a new free trade agreement with the United States. It opened for imports of American beef – which had been banned since a 2003 craze. Many were injured during a month-long wave of protests that some days gathered over 100,000 protesters against meat imports. The protest actions also streaked against the FTA. The opposition parties boycotted the meetings of the National Assembly, forcing the Minister of Agriculture and two other ministers to resign.
Lee had won the election on his economic reform plans for deregulation and privatization, but resources had to be put into immediate action against the global financial crisis. In October 2008, however, he launched a comprehensive privatization plan to reduce, among other things, the number of state-owned enterprises from 319 to 250. Among the longer-term measures was a national climate action plan – “Low Carbon, Green Growth” – which prioritizes renewable energy sources. Development of climate and energy technology was flashed out as a new economic growth area.
The financial crisis put a halt to a colossal infrastructure project: the Great Korean Waterway. It aims to link South Korea’s most important rivers from north to south with channels totaling 589 kilometers. The Lee government claimed that the project, with cost estimates of close to NOK 100 billion, would reduce the nation’s transport costs, promote tourism and tourism and create 700,000 jobs. The opposition describes the project as a burden on the environment and taxpayers.
Former President Roh Moo Hyun took his own life by throwing himself off a cliff during a mountain hike on May 23, 2009. He was then ill and under investigation for corruption. Apparently, family members should have received large sums as bribe money while sitting as South Korea’s president from 2003 to 2008. Roh never pleaded guilty. The suicide sparked debate about the methods of corruption hunters. It is alleged that they leaked untruthful claims made by the media. The deaths led to confrontations, including violent ones, between the opposition and supporters of the government. Roh sympathizers staged a multi-week blockade of the parliament building so that no meetings could be held towards the end of the parliamentary session in July.
On August 18, 2009, former President Kim Dae Jung, often referred to as the “sunshine politics father,” died after a long illness. There was a stir when North Korea sent a delegation of high-ranking party members to Seoul to show him the latest honor. The delegation was received by President Lee Myung Bak and conveyed a message from Kim Jong-il. This was considered the first conciliatory gesture from the north since the Lee government took over the board in early 2008. The parties agreed to resume a visitation arrangement so that aging Koreans get to meet family members they were separated from during the Korean War nearly 60 years ago. The visitation scheme has been organized by the Red Cross in both countries, but was canceled in 2007.
Cold by sunshine policy
The tension on the Korean Peninsula had been sharpened after President Lee settled in 2008 with his predecessors’ “sunshine policy”. Kim Dae Jung and and Roh Moo Hyun had both been eager to bring North Korea into the heat, nationally and internationally, through financial assistance and diplomatic welcome. In addition, large deliveries of emergency aid and significant remittances were provided to prevent economic collapse in the north.
The two now-defunct presidents had both had personal meetings with North Korea’s leader Kim Jong-il. In October 2007, Roh Moo Hyun went to the last Korea Summit in Pyongyang. They agreed on closer economic cooperation between the two Korea states, especially in the new industrial development zone Kaesong, far south in North Korea. An agreement also opened for massive South Korean investments in sectors such as fishing and shipping in the north. President Roh provided $ 1.9 billion in food aid and financial assistance to prevent economic collapse in the north.
With the presidential change in 2008, there was a marked shift in mood in the beginning inter-Korean dialogue. President Lee distanced himself from his predecessors, striking a tighter line. Assistance should hereafter be provided on the basis of specific North Korean expressions of willingness to cooperate, in particular on the termination of the nuclear weapons program. On the basis of North Korea’s questionable tradition of breach of agreement, he insisted that agreements entered into must be kept. This caused severe reactions in the north.
South Korea’s development strategy is reminiscent of Japan, with an export-oriented industry based on imported raw materials. In 1995, South Korea became the 12th country in the world whose exports have exceeded $ 100 billion. Export growth has been formidable. The export industry was partially transformed from the production of textiles and shoes to technically more advanced industries under the 5-year plan in 1977-1982; this development was then reinforced and Japan faced strong competition in the electronics and computer industries.
Since the 1980s, South Korea has been competing with Japan for the status of the world’s largest shipbuilding nation. Since 1988, the country has been among the world’s 12 largest trading nations. The Hyundai Group has one of the world’s largest shipyards and is the country’s largest car manufacturer. Car exports to the West started in 1986. In the 1990s, Samsung, Daewoo and LG (Lucky-Goldstar) secured a position among the world’s leading manufacturers of consumer electronics.
In 1996, South Korea joined the OECD as the only country in Asia next to Japan. A well-educated and relatively inexpensive workforce was a driving force behind industrial travel, which has resulted in drastic changes in the social structure; the importance of agriculture to employment was reduced by over 90 percent in the period 1962-2002. Long-term strikes in 1987 impacted workers’ wage demands – an average of 15 percent annually. In 1997, industrial wages had become among the highest in the world, and competitiveness weakened considerably. Part of industrial production was now flagged out of production to low-cost countries in Asia, and also to Europe and America. The controversy over new labor laws, which made it easier for companies to terminate workers, again in 1997 triggered one of the biggest strike waves the country has seen.
South Korea’s export-driven economy is characterized by extensive cooperation and coordination between the business community and the state, that is, the politicians and the government. A number of large industrial conglomerates – chaebols – form the core of South Korea’s export economy. Names such as Samsung, Hyundai, LG and Daewoo have become known worldwide for their products in the fields of mobile technology, electronics, shipbuilding and automotive.
In 2008, South Korea had the world’s largest memory chip manufacturer (Samsung Electronics), the world’s 3 largest steel producers (Posco), the world’s fifth largest car manufacturer (Hyundai) and the world’s three largest shipyards (Hyundai Heavy Industries, Samsung Heavy Industries) and Daewoo Shipbuilding. South Korea is among the world’s leading manufacturers of mobile phones and monitors for TVs and computers. Besides the IT sector, biological and medical research is focused on.
The Asian crisis of 1997-1998 hit South Korea hard, but an active and sustained reform effort helped bring South Korea out of the crisis faster than most countries in the region. However, the growth rate has not been as high as in the early 1990s, and has been declining slowly since the turn of the millennium. Structural weaknesses mean that the growth potential may be weakening and approaching the average growth rate in the OECD countries, according to the OECD’s assessment.
During the 2007 election campaign, Lee launched its “Korea 747 Vision”: Increase growth to 7 percent annually, double annual average revenue to $ 40,000 by 2017, and secure South Korea’s economy, today the 13th largest, a number 7 spot world. However, the global financial crisis in 2008 hit South Korea hard, with a much steeper decline than expected. Among the world’s currencies, South Korea’s won was among the most depreciated. Compared to the crisis in 1997, however, the economy seemed much more robust and quickly recovered. South Korea held its position as the world’s 11th largest export nation in 2008, advancing to ninth place in 2013.
In October 2008, the government announced a financial crisis package of approx. NOK 900 billion to strengthen the banking system and stabilize the financial market. In February 2009, the key policy rate was lowered to the lowest level ever.
The export industry has been the major driver of South Korea’s growth, especially since China took over the United States in 2003 as the country’s largest trading partner. China’s share of South Korea’s total exports of semi-finished goods increased from just 1 percent in 1992 to over 30 percent in 2007. In South Korea, it is still rare to see foreign brand names. Most of it is locally produced.
In 2007, South Korea agreed with the United States on a free trade agreement aimed at increasing trade. It came into force in March 2012. The US gained expanded market access for its agricultural products, but rice will still be excluded. The agreement is supposed to be the most comprehensive of its kind that the United States has with any country in the region, but is highly contentious among South Koreans.
South Korea was ranked 15th out of 179 countries on the UN Living Index in 2014, and 43rd out of 175 countries on Transparency International’s Corruption Index 2014. The country is ranked 117th out of 130 on the World Economic Forum’s Equality Index.