U.S. Department of State Background Note
Korea has experienced one of the largest rates of emigration, with ethnic Koreans residing primarily in China (1.9 million), the United States (1.52 million), Japan (681,000), and the countries of the former Soviet Union (450,000).
With declining Chinese power and a weakened domestic posture at the end of the 19th century, Korea was open to Western and Japanese encroachment. In 1910, Japan began a 35-year period of colonial rule over Korea. As a result of Japan’s efforts to supplant the Korean language and aspects of Korean culture, memories of Japanese annexation still recall fierce animosity and resentment, especially among older Koreans. Nevertheless, import restrictions on Japanese movies, popular music, fashion, and the like have been lifted, and many Koreans, especially the younger generations, eagerly follow Japanese pop culture. Aspects of Korean culture, including television shows and movies, have also become popular in Japan.
Japan’s surrender to the Allied Powers in 1945, signaling the end of World War II, only further embroiled Korea in foreign rivalries. Division at the 38th parallel marked the beginning of Soviet and U.S. trusteeship over the North and South, respectively. On August 15, 1948 the Republic of Korea (R.O.K.) was established, with Syngman Rhee as the first President. On September 9, 1948 the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (D.P.R.K.) was established under Kim Il Sung.
On June 25, 1950, North Korean forces invaded South Korea. Led by the U.S., a 16-member coalition undertook the first collective action under United Nations Command (UNC). Following China’s entry on behalf of North Korea later that year, a stalemate ensued for the final two years of the conflict. Armistice negotiations, initiated in July 1951, were ultimately concluded on July 27, 1953 at Panmunjom, in what is now the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ). The Armistice Agreement was signed by representatives of the Korean People’s Army, the Chinese People’s Volunteers, and the U.S.-led United Nations Command (UNC). Though the R.O.K. supported the UNC, it refused to sign the Armistice Agreement. A peace treaty has never been signed. The war left almost three million Koreans dead or wounded and millions of others homeless and separated from their families.
In the following decades, South Korea experienced political turmoil under autocratic leadership. President Syngman Rhee was forced to resign in April 1960 following a student-led uprising. The Second Republic under the leadership of Chang Myon ended after only one year, when Major General Park Chung-hee led a military coup. Park’s rule, which resulted in tremendous economic growth and development but increasingly restricted political freedoms, ended with his assassination in 1979. Subsequently, a powerful group of military officers, led by Lieutenant General Chun Doo Hwan, declared martial law and took power.
Throughout the Park and Chun eras, South Korea developed a vocal civil society that led to strong protests against authoritarian rule. Composed primarily of students and labor union activists, protest movements reached a climax after Chun’s 1979 coup and declaration of martial law. A confrontation in Gwangju in 1980 left at least 200 civilians dead. Thereafter, pro-democracy activities intensified even more, ultimately forcing political concessions by the government in 1987, including the restoration of direct presidential elections.
In 1987, Roh Tae-woo, a former general, was elected president, but additional democratic advances during his tenure resulted in the 1992 election of a long-time pro-democracy activist, Kim Young-sam. Kim became Korea’s first civilian elected president in 32 years. The 1997 presidential election and peaceful transition of power marked another step forward in Korea’s democratization when Kim Dae-jung, a life-long democracy and human rights activist, was elected from a major opposition party. The transition to an open, democratic system was further consolidated in 2002, when self-educated human rights lawyer, Roh Moo-hyun, won the presidential election on a "participatory government" platform.
GOVERNMENT AND POLITICAL CONDITIONS
In December 2002, President Roh Moo-hyun was elected to a single 5-year term of office. In the April 2004 elections, the ruling Uri Party won a slim but outright majority in the National Assembly. Because of the loss of seats in by-elections and as a result of convictions for election law violations, Uri no longer has a majority, but does retain a plurality of seats.
Principal Government Officials
Korea maintains an embassy in the United States at 2450 Massachusetts Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20008 (tel. 202-939-5600). Consulates General are located in Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Honolulu, Houston, Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco, Seattle, and Hagatna (Agana) in Guam.
In the early 1960s, the government of Park Chung Hee instituted sweeping economic policy changes emphasizing exports and labor-intensive light industries, leading to rapid debt-financed industrial expansion. The government carried out a currency reform, strengthened financial institutions, and introduced flexible economic planning. In the 1970s Korea began directing fiscal and financial policies toward promoting heavy and chemical industries, consumer electronics, and automobiles. Manufacturing continued to grow rapidly in the 1980s and early 1990s.
In recent years, Korea’s economy moved away from the centrally planned, government-directed investment model toward a more market-oriented one. Korea bounced back from the 1997-98 Asian financial crisis with some International Monetary Fund (IMF) assistance, but based largely on extensive financial reforms that restored stability to markets. These economic reforms, pushed by President Kim Dae-jung, helped Korea maintain one of Asia’s few expanding economies, with growth rates of 10% in 1999 and 9% in 2000. The slowing global economy and falling exports slowed growth to 3.3% in 2001, prompting consumer stimulus measures that led to 7.0% growth in 2002. Consumer over-shopping and rising household debt, along with external factors, slowed growth to near 3% again in 2003. Economic performance in 2004 improved to 4.6% due to an increase in exports, and remained at or above 4% in 2005 and into 2006.
Economists are concerned that South Korea’s economic growth potential has fallen because of a rapidly aging population and structural problems that are becoming increasingly apparent. Foremost among these structural concerns is the rigidity of South Korea’s labor regulations, the need for more constructive relations between management and workers, the country’s underdeveloped financial markets, and a general lack of regulatory transparency. Restructuring of Korean conglomerates ("chaebols") and creating a more liberalized economy with a mechanism for bankrupt firms to exit the market are also important unfinished reform tasks. Korean policy makers are increasingly worried about diversion of corporate investment to China and other lower wage countries.
North-South Economic Ties
Two-way trade between North and South Korea, legalized in 1988, hit almost $1.35 billion in 2006, up 27.8% from 2005. This total included a substantial quantity of non-trade goods provided to the North as aid (fertilizer, etc.) or as part of inter-Korean cooperative projects. According to R.O.K. figures, about 60% of the total trade consisted of commercial transactions, much of that based on processing-on-commission arrangements. The R.O.K. is North Korea’s second-largest trading partner.
Economic considerations have a high priority in Korean foreign policy. The R.O.K. seeks to build on its economic accomplishments to increase its regional and global role. It is a founding member of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum and chaired the organization in 2005.
The Republic of Korea maintains diplomatic relations with more than 170 countries and a broad network of trading relationships. The United States and Korea are allied by the 1953 Mutual Defense Treaty. Korea and Japan coordinate closely on numerous issues. This includes consultations with the United States on North Korea policy.
Korean Peninsula: Reunification and Recent Developments
Relations improved again following the 1997 election of Kim Dae-jung. His "Sunshine Policy" of engagement with the D.P.R.K. set the stage for the historic June 2000 inter-Korean summit between President Kim and North Korean leader Kim Jong Il. President Kim was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2000 for the policy, but the prize was somewhat tarnished by revelations of a $500 million dollar "payoff" to North Korea that immediately preceded the summit.
Relations again became tense following the October 2002 North Korean acknowledgement of a covert program to enrich uranium for nuclear weapons. Following this acknowledgement, the United States, along with the People’s Republic of China, proposed multilateral talks among the concerned parties to deal with this issue. At the urging of China and its neighbors, the D.P.R.K. agreed to meet with China and the United States in April 2003. In August of that year, the D.P.R.K. agreed to attend Six-Party Talks aimed at ending the North’s pursuit of nuclear weapons that added the Republic of Korea, Japan, and Russia to the table. Two more rounds of Six-Party Talks between the United States, the Republic of Korea, Japan, China, and the D.P.R.K. were held in February and June of 2004. At the third round, the United States put forward a comprehensive proposal aimed at completely, verifiably, and irreversibly eliminating North Korea’s nuclear weapons programs.
A fourth round of talks was held in two sessions spanning a period of 20 days between July and September 2005. All parties agreed to a Joint Statement of Principles on September 19, 2005, in which, among other things, the D.P.R.K. committed to "abandoning all nuclear weapons and existing nuclear programs and returning, at an early date, to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons and to IAEA safeguards." The Joint Statement also committed the United States and other parties to certain actions as the D.P.R.K. denuclearized. The United States offered a security assurance, specifying that it had no nuclear weapons on R.O.K. territory and no intention to attack or invade the D.P.R.K. with nuclear or other weapons. Finally, the United States and D.P.R.K., as well as the D.P.R.K. and Japan, agreed to undertake steps to normalize relations, subject to their respective bilateral policies. On October 9, 2006, North Korea announced a successful nuclear test, verified by the United States on October 11. In response, the United Nations Security Council, citing Chapter VII of the UN Charter, unanimously adopted Resolution 1718, condemning North Korea’s action and imposing sanctions on certain luxury goods and trade of military units, weapons of mass destruction (WMD)-related parts, and technology transfers.
The Six-Party Talks resumed in December 2006 after a 13-month hiatus. Following a bilateral meeting between the United States and D.P.R.K. in Berlin in January 2007, another round of Six-Party Talks was held in February 2007. On February 13, 2007, the parties reached an agreement on "Initial Actions for the Implementation of the Joint Statement" in which North Korea agreed to shut down and seal its Yongbyon nuclear facility, including the reprocessing facility, and to invite back International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) personnel to conduct all necessary monitoring and verification of these actions. The other five parties agreed to provide emergency energy assistance to North Korea in the amount of 50,000 tons of heavy fuel oil (HFO) in the initial phase (within 60 days) and the equivalent of up to 950,000 tons of HFO in the next phase of North Korea's denuclearization. The six parties also established five working groups to form specific plans for implementing the Joint Statement in the following areas: denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, normalization of D.P.R.K.-U.S. relations, normalization of D.P.R.K.-Japan relations, economic and energy cooperation, and a Northeast Asia peace and security mechanism. All parties agreed that the working groups would meet within 30 days of the agreement, which they did. The agreement also envisions the directly-related parties negotiating a permanent peace regime on the Korean Peninsula at an appropriate separate forum. As part of the initial actions, North Korea invited IAEA Director General ElBaradei to Pyongyang in early March for preliminary discussions on the return of the IAEA to the D.P.R.K.
The sixth round of Six-Party Talks took place on March 19-23, 2007. The parties reported on the first meetings of the five working groups. The talks recessed following the March round.
Under President Roh Moo-hyun, the R.O.K. has simultaneously sought the elimination of the D.P.R.K.’s nuclear weapons through the Six-Party Talks and pursued a policy of reconciliation known as the "Peace and Prosperity Policy." By engaging with the D.P.R.K. through projects such as the Kaesong Industrial Complex, the R.O.K. hopes to invigorate the North Korean economy and engineer a gradual, long-term unification process.
Under the 1953 U.S.-R.O.K. Mutual Defense Treaty, the United States agreed to help the Republic of Korea defend itself against external aggression. Since that time in support of this commitment, the United States has maintained military personnel in Korea, including the Army’s Second Infantry Division and several Air Force tactical squadrons. To coordinate operations between these units and the over 680,000-strong Korean armed forces, a Combined Forces Command (CFC) was established in 1978. The head of the CFC also serves as Commander of the United Nations Command (UNC) and U.S. Forces Korea (USFK). The current commander is General Burwell Baxter "B.B." Bell.
Several aspects of the security relationship are changing as the U.S. moves from a leading to a supporting role. In 2004, agreement was reached on the return of the Yongsan base in Seoul--as well as a number of other U.S. bases--to the R.O.K. and the eventual relocation of all U.S. forces to south of the Han River. In addition, the U.S. and R.O.K. agreed to move 12,500 of the 37,500 U.S. troops out of Korea by 2008. At the same time U.S. troops are being redeployed from Korea, the U.S. will bolster combined U.S./R.O.K. deterrent and defense capabilities by providing $11 billion in force enhancements in Korea and at regional facilities over the next four years.
As Korea’s economy has developed, trade has become an increasingly important aspect of the U.S.-R.O.K. relationship. The U.S. seeks to improve access to Korea’s expanding market and increase investment opportunities for American business. The implementation of structural reforms contained in the IMF’s 1998 program for Korea improved access to the Korean market, although a range of serious sectoral and structural barriers remained. Korean leaders appear determined to successfully manage the complex economic relationship with the United States and take a more active role in international economic fora as befits Korea’s status as a major trading nation. On April 1, 2007, the U.S. and Korea successfully concluded Free Trade Agreement (FTA) negotiations. Eight rounds of formal talks held over the course of 10 months culminated in a deal that will "further enhance the strong United States-Korea partnership, which has served as a force for stability and prosperity in Asia," as stated by President Bush. The agreement was signed by U.S. Trade Representative Susan Schwab and South Korean Trade Minister Kim Hyun-chong on June 30, 2007. If approved by the U.S. Congress and the Korean National Assembly, the FTA is expected to stimulate billions of dollars in trade through the removal of trade barriers and increased investment.
Principal U.S. Embassy Officials
The U.S. Embassy in South Korea is located at 32 Sejong-no, Jongno-gu, Seoul 110-710. The contact information for the U.S. Embassy is: American Embassy-Seoul, Unit 15550, APO AP 96205-5550 (tel.: 82-2-397-4114; fax: 82-2-738-8845). The U.S. Agricultural Trade Office (ATO) is located at 146-1, Susong-dong, Jongno-gu, Leema Bldg., Rm. 303, Seoul 110-140 (fax: 82-2-720-7921). The U.S. Export Development Office/U.S. Trade Center can be reached c/o U.S. Embassy (fax: 82-2-739-1628).
Internet Resources on North and South Korea
TRAVEL AND BUSINESS INFORMATION
For the latest security information, Americans living and traveling abroad should regularly monitor the Department's Bureau of Consular Affairs Internet web site at http://www.travel.state.gov, where the current Worldwide Caution, Public Announcements, and Travel Warnings can be found. Consular Affairs Publications, which contain information on obtaining passports and planning a safe trip abroad, are also available at http://www.travel.state.gov. For additional information on international travel, see http://www.usa.gov/Citizen/Topics/Travel/International.shtml.
The Department of State encourages all U.S citizens traveling or residing abroad to register via the State Department's travel registration website or at the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate abroad. Registration will make your presence and whereabouts known in case it is necessary to contact you in an emergency and will enable you to receive up-to-date information on security conditions.
Emergency information concerning Americans traveling abroad may be obtained by calling 1-888-407-4747 toll free in the U.S. and Canada or the regular toll line 1-202-501-4444 for callers outside the U.S. and Canada.
The National Passport Information Center (NPIC) is the U.S. Department of State's single, centralized public contact center for U.S. passport information. Telephone: 1-877-4USA-PPT (1-877-487-2778). Customer service representatives and operators for TDD/TTY are available Monday-Friday, 7:00 a.m. to 12:00 midnight, Eastern Time, excluding federal holidays.
Travelers can check the latest health information with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, Georgia. A hotline at 877-FYI-TRIP (877-394-8747) and a web site at http://www.cdc.gov/travel/index.htm give the most recent health advisories, immunization recommendations or requirements, and advice on food and drinking water safety for regions and countries. A booklet entitled "Health Information for International Travel" (HHS publication number CDC-95-8280) is available from the U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington, DC 20402, tel. (202) 512-1800.
Further Electronic Information
Export.gov provides a portal to all export-related assistance and market information offered by the federal government and provides trade leads, free export counseling, help with the export process, and more.STAT-USA/Internet, a service of the U.S. Department of Commerce, provides authoritative economic, business, and international trade information from the Federal government. The site includes current and historical trade-related releases, international market research, trade opportunities, and country analysis and provides access to the National Trade Data Bank.
Revised: Sep. 2007