South Korea. South Korea’s perhaps biggest cultural treasure, Namdaemunporten, was totally destroyed in February in a created fire. The gate, which was built in 1398, was made of wood and constituted a remnant of the old city wall that surrounded Seoul.
The country’s newly elected president Lee Myung Bak quickly took a much tougher stance on North Korea than did former presidents Roh Moo Hyun and Kim Dae Jung. It prompted North Korea to warn in April that Lee’s attitude could have “disastrous consequences”.
That same month, President Lee’s Conservative Party of the Great National Party (GNP) won a victory in the parliamentary elections with 153 of the 299 seats. The Liberal Democratic Party (UDP) won 81 seats and became the second largest party, even though its number of seats was halved compared to the last election. Han Seung Soo from the GNP was named Prime Minister. The 72-year-old diplomat He had previously been both finance minister and foreign minister.
- ABBREVIATIONFINDER: Click to see the meanings of 2-letter acronym and abbreviation of KR in general and in geography as South Korea in particular.
During the year, relations with North Korea deteriorated again, after some bright spots were noted in 2007. In March, President Lee demanded greater respect for human rights on the part of North Korea and that the neighboring country followed the agreements on disarmament of the North Korean nuclear program previously signed. Otherwise, South Korea threatened to withdraw assistance. A low-water mark in the relationship came in July when a North Korean soldier shot to death a South Korean woman visiting the special tourist zone on the Kumgang Mountains inside North Korea. The woman must have accidentally entered a military barricade.
In October, the country’s banks were hit by the international financial crisis. The South Korean banks had incurred high foreign debt and were now finding it difficult to pay off the loans. The same month, the government presented a financial rescue package of the equivalent of USD 130 billion to stabilize the banking system.
General information about South Korea
South Korea is one of the most densely populated countries in the world and urbanization has been rapid. The capital, Seoul, is home to more than a quarter of the country’s citizens. The Hangang River crosses this metropolis of more than ten million inhabitants. A good overview of Seoul can be obtained from the top of Seoul Tower. It is also easy to get around Seoul by subway. The southern port city of Pusan was a major site in the Korean War. Today Pusan is famous for its seafood and stunning beaches.
South Korea has developed into one of the Asian economic powers, one of the “little tigers” of the world economy. The best known companies are probably Daewoo, Hyundai and Samsung. Diversified industrial production and fishing are the main industries. South Koreans have been characterized as workaholic because of the long working days and few holidays.
According to Countryaah reports, the population of South Korea in 2008 was 49,545,525, ranking number 26 in the world. The population growth rate was 0.340% yearly, and the population density was 509.5715 people per km2.
The 2000 census found 45.985.289 residents, which a 2005 estimate raises to 48.422.000: the overall density, consequently, approaches the impressive level of 500 residents / km 2. The pace of population growth, however, has more than halved within a decade, coming in 2005 at 0.4 %. In fact, with a fertility rate of 1.3 children per woman, the Republic of Korea (South Korea) is about to embark on the path of zero growth. The modest birth rate (10 ‰) and the very low mortality rate (5.8 ‰) have changed the structure of the age pyramid, increasing the share of the population in old age. The picture of demographic behavior, very similar to that of other countries with advanced economies, is completed with a significant decrease in the number of family members (on average 3.2 in 2000) and with a high percentage of divorces (equal to half of weddings). The aging of the population has had severe repercussions on the budgets of health care and the pension system, prompting the government to undertake several rear-end interventions. A distinctive feature of the South Korean population is the very high level of education: illiterate people (who are mainly women) are almost absent, higher education concerns 91% of young people between 12 and 17, and university students 85 % of young people over 17 (2003). This is the result of a strong government commitment: in fact, expenditure on education is equal to 15.5 % of the state budget.
The phenomenon of urbanization, affecting over four fifths of South Koreans, is constantly expanding, generating widespread problems of housing shortages and commuting. The capital Seoul (Sŏul) dominates the urban entities, to which a 2003 estimate attributes approximately 10,300,000 residents; its metropolitan area continues to expand, incorporating a populous district which, according to some estimates, would aggregate about 22,300,000 residents, or more than two-fifths of South Koreans. Moreover, the other five large agglomerations not included in the vast area of gravitation of the capital show signs of demographic stabilization, indicating the start of a strengthening of the intermediate centers.
After more than twenty years of impetuous growth, at the end of the nineties of the 20th century. the South Korean economy showed symptoms of slowdown (+ 5 % in 1997) and even of a serious crisis (- 6.7 % in 1998). The difficulties arose from an inflexible economic system, entangled by mutual interference between the state, the credit system and large industrial conglomerates (chaebol); the latter have had to deal with episodes of overproduction and heavy indebtedness. A series of severe social conflicts has also led to an increase in labor costs, further weakening the country’s competitive capabilities. To remedy this crisis, South Korean rulers launched a liberalization campaign in 1999, reducing the traditional privileges of chaebol, favoring the modernization of the banking system and mitigating the intrusiveness of the public sector. The threats subsequently formulated by the United States against neighboring North Korea have, however, induced tensions on the market, also proven by the stock market crises, and have not encouraged the inflow of new capital. However, the South Korean economy has shown itself to be capable of containing the damage, exhibiting considerable resilience: GDP has resumed its growth, albeit at a slower pace than in the past (+ 6 % on average between 1999 and 2005) ; per capita income (which had tripled in the 1980s and doubled in the 1990s) increased by a third between 2000 and 2005,and with its 20,300 US dollars (at purchasing power parity) it is now not far from that of Italy (28,300 dollars), while only ten years earlier it was less than half; the unemployment rate (which rose to 8 % in 1998) since 1999 has remained steadily below 4 %, even if the social tensions do not seem to have subsided at all.