South Korea

Located on the southern tip of the Korean Peninsula, South Korea is a small but prosperous country in East Asia. Relative to the rest of the world, South Koreans enjoy a high standard of living, but the populace has been on high alert in recent years due to tensions with North Korea.

Current Events

Today, South Korea maintains one of the world’s most developed economies and is an active member of the OECD. Its robust economy consists of large technological and engineering sectors, where many of its companies, such as Samsung, LG, and Hyundai-Kia, have become influential internationally.

The primary issue in South Korean politics today has often been its relations with North Korea, and over the years, their relationship has ranged from guarded to openly hostile. In 1998, President Kim Dae-jung attempted to ease tensions by arranging planned visits with North Korean leaders. However, after allegations of corruption, where South Korea had secretly paid North Korea with substantial amounts of money to make the meetings successful, the Sunshine Policy eventually lost traction.

Today, along with American troops, South Korean military units actively patrol the Demilitarized Zone. Both the north and south have also installed loudspeakers that constantly broadcast propaganda, which have also resulted in occasional incursions. This year, the South Korean government is on high alert as North Korea’s nuclear program has steadily progressed, as the country has developed an ICBM and a miniaturized nuclear bomb in just under three months. Over this time, Japan and South Korea have frequently met to discuss emergency response plans in case of a North Korean first strike.

Another key issue that often appears in South Korea’s foreign policy is its reconciliation with Japan after the Second World War. Today, the two countries have become close allies in trade and defence. However, Japan’s increasingly supportive stance on its revisionist history, such as downplaying its role in atrocities committed during the war, and the denial of abducting women into sexual slavery for the Japanese Army have continued to draw ire from the South Korean population.

Domestically, it has only been months after South Korea’s previous president, Park Geun-hye, was impeached and arrested on charges of bribery and abuse of power. Park, the daughter of Park Chung-hee, had been sharing state secrets with a close friend with no governmental position or clearance. Later investigations also revealed that Park’s government had been colluding with numerous corporations in embezzling funds as well. A special election was held after her removal from power, where Moon Jae-in was elected President.

In 2018, South Korea hosted the Winter Olympics in the resort city of Pyeongchang.

Government

South Korea is a unitary state with a limited degree of decentralization, as local governments are granted some form of autonomy. Its government consists of a unicameral National Assembly headed by a President, who serves as both the Head of Government and Head of State. Since the adoption of its current constitution in 1988, South Korea has largely expanded its civil rights and welfare system, and is considered a liberal democracy. Elections that select members of the National Assembly are held once every four years, while the President is directly elected and serves a non-renewable, five year term.

The current President of South Korea is Moon Jae-in, elected in a landslide special election in 2017 after the impeachment of Park Geun-hye. A member of the centre-left Democratic Party, Moon has promised greater government transparency after a corruption scandal removed the previous president from power. The son of North Korean refugees, Moon is known for his softer stance on North Korea, and supports peaceful contact between the two countries.

Culture and Media

Popular culture in South Korea has seen growing popularity across the world, in a phenomenon known as the ‘Korean Wave.’ Media such as South Korean music and soap operas have become famous worldwide, and has become a significant part of its economy.

South Korea has a free press, but a security law has banned the publication of content that praises or favourably describes North Korea. There is a diverse array of newspapers, cable news, and radio in the country with high engagement. South Korea’s public service broadcasters, which includes the Korea Broadcasting System and Munhwa Broadcasting System are among the nation’s most popular platforms.

South Korea boasts one of the highest rates of internet usage in the world, 88 percent of internet users are connected by a messaging service, while two-thirds on the web are connected on Facebook. Video games are one of the nation’s largest entertainment sectors, as South Korea are one of the strongest countries worldwide in eSports competitions.

Quick Facts

Capital Seoul
Structure of Government Unitary presidential republic
Power of Government Liberal democracy
Currency Korean Won ₩ (KRW)
Major Languages
  • Korean
Major Religions
  • Korean folklore
  • Korean Buddhism
  • Catholicism
  • Presbyterianism
  • Methodism

Notable Cities

  • Seoul A is the capital and largest city of South Korea. Known as Hanseong until the late-19th Century, Seoul was political and cultural centre of the Korean state for centuries. Today, the sprawling megacity is among the globe’s premier metropolitan economies with 15 Fortune 500 corporations
  • Busan is South Korea’s second-largest city and one of the world’s busiest ports. An international hub like Seoul, Busan serves as the economic centre of the nation’s southeastern region

Above Photo: View of the Seoul Skyline. (Sunyu Kim, Unsplash)