Korea, South
An independent kingdom for much of its long history, Korea was occupied by Japan beginning in 1905 following the Russo-Japanese War. In 1910, Tokyo formally annexed the entire Peninsula. Korea regained its independence following Japan's surrender to the US in 1945. After World War II, a democratic government (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 (Democratic People's Republic of Korea, DPRK). During the Korean War (1950-53), US troops and UN forces fought alongside ROK soldiers to defend South Korea from a DPRK invasion supported by communist China and the Soviet Union. A 1953 armistice split the Peninsula along a demilitarized zone at about the 38th parallel. PARK Chung-hee took over leadership of the country in a 1961 coup. During his regime, from 1961 to 1979, South Korea achieved rapid economic growth, with per capita income rising to roughly 17 times the level of North Korea in 1979. South Korea held its first free presidential election under a revised democratic constitution in 1987, with former ROK Army general ROH Tae-woo winning a close race. In 1993, KIM Young-sam (1993-98) became the first civilian president of South Korea's new democratic era. President KIM Dae-jung (1998-2003) won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2000 for his contributions to South Korean democracy and his "Sunshine" policy of engagement with North Korea. President PARK Geun-hye, daughter of former ROK President PARK Chung-hee, took office in February 2013 as South Korea's first female leader. In December 2016, the National Assembly passed an impeachment motion against President PARK over her alleged involvement in a corruption and influence-peddling scandal, immediately suspending her presidential authorities. The impeachment was upheld in March 2017, triggering an early presidential election in May 2017 won by MOON Jae-in. South Korea hosted the Winter Olympic and Paralympic Games in February 2018, in which North Korea also participated. Discord with North Korea has permeated inter-Korean relations for much of the past decade, highlighted by the North's attacks on a South Korean ship and island in 2010, the exchange of artillery fire across the DMZ in 2015, and multiple nuclear and missile tests in 2016 and 2017. North Korea’s participation in the Winter Olympics, dispatch of a senior delegation to Seoul, and three inter-Korean summits in 2018 appear to have ushered in a temporary period of respite, buoyed by the historic US-DPRK summits in 2018 and 2019.



37.0° N, 127. 30° E
Eastern Asia, southern half of the Korean Peninsula bordering the Sea of Japan and the Yellow Sea


99,720 sq km
96,920 sq km
2,800 sq km

land boundaries

237 km


2,413 km


temperate, with rainfall heavier in summer than winter; cold winters


mostly hills and mountains; wide coastal plains in west and south


282 m
lowest point
Sea of Japan
0 m
highest point
1,950 m

natural resources

  • coal
  • tungsten
  • graphite
  • molybdenum
  • lead
  • hydropower potential

land use

arable land
15.3 %
permanent crops
2.2 %
permanent pasture
0.6 %
63.9 %
18 %

population distribution

with approximately 70% of the country considered mountainous, the country's population is primarily concentrated in the lowland areas, where density is quite high; Gyeonggi Province in the northwest, which surrounds the capital of Seoul and contains the port of Incheon, is the most densely populated province; Gangwon in the northeast is the least populated



  • 51,835,110
  • 28
    global rank


  • Korean(s)
  • Korean

ethnic groups

  • homogeneous


  • Korean
  • English
    widely taught in elementary, junior high, and high school


19.7 %
15.5 %
7.9 %
56.9 %

birth rate

  • 8.2
    per 1,000 population
  • 220
    global rank

death rate

  • 6.8
    per 1,000 population
  • 135
    global rank

urban population

81.4 %

major urban areas

  • Seoul
    pop. 9,963,000
  • Busan
    pop. 3,465,000
  • Incheon
    pop. 2,801,000
  • Daegu
    pop. 2,199,000
  • Daejon
    pop. 1,566,000
  • Gwangju
    pop. 1,522,000

life expectancy

  • 82.6
    total population
  • 15
    global rank

adult obesity rate

  • 4.7%
    percent of adults
  • 184
    global rank


country name


  • Republic of Korea
    long form
  • South Korea
    short form


  • Taehan-min'guk
    long form
  • Han'guk
    short form

government type

presidential republic


Seoul; note - Sejong, located some 120 km (75 mi) south of Seoul, is serving as an administrative capital for segments of the South Korean Government
37.33 N, 126.59 E


national holidays

  • Liberation Day
    15 August

legal system

mixed legal system combining European civil law, Anglo-American law, and Chinese classical thought

flag description

white with a red (top) and blue yin-yang symbol in the center; there is a different black trigram from the ancient I Ching (Book of Changes) in each corner of the white field; the South Korean national flag is called Taegukki; white is a traditional Korean color and represents peace and purity; the blue section represents the negative cosmic forces of the yin, while the red symbolizes the opposite positive forces of the yang; each trigram (kwae) denotes one of the four universal elements, which together express the principle of movement and harmony

national colors

  • red
  • white
  • blue
  • black

national anthem

"Aegukga" (Patriotic Song)



After emerging from the 1950-53 war with North Korea, South Korea emerged as one of the 20th century’s most remarkable economic success stories, becoming a developed, globally connected, high-technology society within decades. In the 1960s, GDP per capita was comparable with levels in the poorest countries in the world. In 2004, South Korea's GDP surpassed one trillion dollars. Beginning in the 1960s under President PARK Chung-hee, the government promoted the import of raw materials and technology, encouraged saving and investment over consumption, kept wages low, and directed resources to export-oriented industries that remain important to the economy to this day. Growth surged under these policies, and frequently reached double-digits in the 1960s and 1970s. Growth gradually moderated in the 1990s as the economy matured, but remained strong enough to propel South Korea into the ranks of the advanced economies of the OECD by 1997. These policies also led to the emergence of family-owned chaebol conglomerates such as Daewoo, Hyundai, and Samsung, which retained their dominant positions even as the government loosened its grip on the economy amid the political changes of the 1980s and 1990s. The Asian financial crisis of 1997-98 hit South Korea’s companies hard because of their excessive reliance on short-term borrowing, and GDP ultimately plunged by 7% in 1998. South Korea tackled difficult economic reforms following the crisis, including restructuring some chaebols, increasing labor market flexibility, and opening up to more foreign investment and imports. These steps lead to a relatively rapid economic recovery. South Korea also began expanding its network of free trade agreements to help bolster exports, and has since implemented 16 free trade agreements covering 58 countries—including the United State and China—that collectively cover more than three-quarters of global GDP. In 2017, the election of President MOON Jae-in brought a surge in consumer confidence, in part, because of his successful efforts to increase wages and government spending. These factors combined with an uptick in export growth to drive real GDP growth to more than 3%, despite disruptions in South Korea’s trade with China over the deployment of a US missile defense system in South Korea. In 2018 and beyond, South Korea will contend with gradually slowing economic growth - in the 2-3% range - not uncommon for advanced economies. This could be partially offset by efforts to address challenges arising from its rapidly aging population, inflexible labor market, continued dominance of the chaebols, and heavy reliance on exports rather than domestic consumption. Socioeconomic problems also persist, and include rising inequality, poverty among the elderly, high youth unemployment, long working hours, low worker productivity, and corruption.


2,035,000,000,000.0,002 USD

agriculture products

  • rice
  • root crops
  • barley
  • vegetables
  • fruit
  • cattle
  • pigs
  • chickens
  • milk
  • eggs
  • fish

poverty level



  • 357,100,000,000
    revenue (USD)
  • 335,800,000,000
    expenditures (USD)



    fixed lines

  • 25,906,849
    total subscriptions
  • 10
    global rank

    mobile cellular

  • 66,355,778
    total subscriptions
  • 23
    global rank

broadcast media

multiple national TV networks with 2 of the 3 largest networks publicly operated; the largest privately owned network, Seoul Broadcasting Service (SBS), has ties with other commercial TV networks; cable and satellite TV subscription services available; publicly operated radio broadcast networks and many privately owned radio broadcasting networks, each with multiple affiliates, and independent local stations


country code


  • 49,309,955
  • 95.9
    % of population
  • 17
    global rank


electricity access



air transport

    national system

  • 12
    registered air carriers
  • 65,482,307
    annual passenger traffic


  • 111
  • 71


3,979 km
total length


100,428 km
total length


1,600 km
total length



expenditures here

service age