Korea, Republic of
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Located on the southern part of the Korean peninsula, the Republic of Korea (often known as South Korea) only has a land border with the Demilitarised Zone that separates it from the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea to the north. Initially established as a Western looking counter to its Soviet influenced northern neighbour, South Korea went through several periods of authoritarian military rule before moving towards a functioning democracy in the late 1980s. It is now governed by a directly elected president and legislature and features strong liberal democratic institutions. Authoritarian social attitudes still remain, however, including limited respect for freedom of speech or privacy - particularly around issues related to the North - and discrimination based on race and gender.
The Republic of Korea (also known as South Korea) is a mountainous nation in East Asia. Its neighbours are China, including Taiwan, Japan and North Korea; it also has coastline along the East China Sea.
The capital city is Seoul.
Population and language
Korea has a population of about 50 million. The ethnic composition is largely homogenous, but there is a significant Chinese community and growing pockets of migrant workers from South and Central Asia in particular.
Large numbers of Korean have emigrated over the years, with many ethnic Koreans now living in China (2.4 million), the United States (2.1 million), Japan (600,000), and former Soviet Union countries (532,000).
Furthermore, because of a preference for boys, men now outnumber women significantly which is resulting in an increase in the number of international marriages.
The main language is Korean.
Politics and economy
North and South Korea formed one nation under the Korean Empire. The Empire fell in 1910 and Korea was annexed by Japan. After World War II, the country was liberated by the Soviet Union and US forces and split in two, with South Korea becoming a democracy. North Korea invaded the South in 1950. Today, a tense peace reigns, but relations took a downward turn in 2010 when the North torpedoed a navy ship in the South.
South Korea is a presidential Republic led by President Lee Myung-bak.
The country's economy is highly developed and grew rapidly between the 1960s and 1990s – becoming known as one of the 'Asian Tigers'. The economy is based primarily on the service sector. Main exports include electronics, cars, ships, machinery, petrochemicals and robotics.
Media and civil society
South Korea has the highest number of citizens connected to the internet in the world. However, online censorship is on the rise. Sites supportive of the North are blocked and many sites require internet users to provide their real names and IP addresses. The National Security Law stipulates that anyone publicly supportive of the North – in online or other media - can be charged with 'anti-statist' activity and imprisoned for up to seven years.
Furthermore, in June 2008, President Lee Myung-bak stated that “The Internet needs to be a place of trust. The strength of the Internet can be poison instead of medicine if people cannot have faith in it”, according to Reporters Without Borders.
Human rights and children's rights
As noted above, freedom of speech and information in relation to the situation in the north are restricted.
In terms of children's rights, mental health issues associated with intense academic competition and stress have been raised as a concern by international human rights bodies, as well as the prevalence of trafficking in women and girls and discrimination based on nationality and gender.
- US State Department, Background Note: Korea
- Reporters Without Borders, “Countries Under Surveillance – South Korea”
- BBC: South Korea Country Profile
- UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights: Republic of Korea
- Hauser Global Law School Program, Globalex, South Korean Law Research on the Internet