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___ South Korea Profile

South Korea information, South Korea facts, South Korea Political System
Political System :: Foreign Policy :: Economy :: The Judiciary :: National Defense :: Health & Welfare :: Labor Policy :: Education :: Science and Technology:: Environmental Policy :: Logistics :: Sports :: Miscellaneous

___Korean Political System

The Constitution of the Republic of Korea calls for a liberal democratic political system. Its principles are based on the sovereignty of the people, with all the authority of state emanating from its citizens: Separation of powers among the three branches of government, the rule of law, and the responsibility to promote citizens' welfare, as well as the attainment of a peaceful unification of Korea.

Every five years, Korean citizens above the age of 20 elect the President in a nationwide, direct, equal and secret ballot. The President is the head of the executive branch and represents the nation externally. The President serves a single five-year term, with no additional term allowed. The current constitution, which was hammered out by a consensus among the ruling and opposition parties in 1987, stipulates the single five-year term provision as a safeguard against any individual holding the government power for a protracted period of time.

Under the current political system, the President plays several major roles First, the President is head of state, leading the government and representing the nation in foreign relations. The president has the duty to uphold the constitution and protect and preserve national independence and territorial integrity, as well as to carry out the unique task of attaining a peaceful unification of Korea.

The President is the Chief Executive of government. In this capacity, he enforces the laws passed by the legislature and issues orders and decrees for that purpose. He is also the commander-in-chief of the armed forces, and has exclusive authority over military policies, including the power to declare war.

The President performs his executive functions through the State Council, or the Cabinet made up of 15 to 30 members, whom he appoints upon the recommendation of the Prime Minister. However, the President is solely responsible for all important government policies. The Prime Minister is appointed by the President and approved by the National Assembly. The members of the State Council, or the Cabinet, lead and supervise their administrative ministries, participate in the deliberation of major state affairs, and act on behalf of the President.

__National Assembly
Legislative power is vested in the National Assembly, which is composed of 299 members serving four-year terms. Every four years, 243 members are elected by popular vote, while the remaining 56 seats alloted to each political party that has obtained three percents or more of the total valid votes or five or more seats in the local constituency election.
An Assembly member is not held responsible outside the Assembly for opinions expressed or votes cast in the Assembly. When the Assembly is in session, no Assembly member may be arrested or detained without the consent of the Assembly, except in cases of arrest at the scene of crime. To be eligible for election, a candidate must be at least 25 years of age. One candidate from each electoral district is elected by a plurality of votes (the next general elections are due in 2008).

The National Assembly is charged with a number of functions under the Constitution. The foremost is making laws. Major functions of the Assembly include deliberation and approval of the annual budget, audits of the administration, matters related to foreign relations, declaration of war, the dispatch of armed forces abroad and impeachment.

The local elections were held on June 13, 2002 to pick heads of provinces, cities, counties and municipal districts as well as council members for the same level of autonomous local governments. In the elections, the conservative Grand National Party (GNP) won a landslide victory by winning 11 of the 16 provincial governors and mayors. The ruling Millennium Democratic Party (MDP) suffered a devastating defeat, winning only four seats, with the remaining one going to an independent. The GNP also seized control of the National Assembly after winning another landslide in the by-elections held two months later. It carried 11 out of the 13 seats at stake. The successive defeats prompted the MDP to get into an extreme internal dissension.

Roh Moo-hyun of the ruling MDP won the presidential election held December 19, 2002, defeating Lee Hoi-chang of the main opposition GNP. In a narrow but convincing victory, Roh garnered 48.9 percent versus Lee's 46.8 percent to become the 16th president of the Republic of Korea on February 25, 2003.

__Local Governments
The Constitution provides in Article 117 that, "Local governments shall deal with matters pertaining to the welfare of local residents, manage properties, and may establish within the purview of the laws and decrees rules and regulations regarding local autonomy."

The Local Autonomy Act was first adopted in 1949, and local councils operated until 1961 when the military government disbanded them. Rapid regional development during the 1970s and 1980s increased the demand for more autonomy by local governments. In 1988, the government initiated a revision of the Local Autonomy Act. The new law designated the Special City of Seoul, six autonomous cities, and nine provinces as wide-area autonomous governments, and the districts in Seoul and cities and counties as local autonomous bodies. The division was made to make smoother transition in stages from a centralized system of government to local autonomy. These local administrative heads of government are elected for a four-year term for a maximum of three terms. (However, the winners of the first term in 1995 were elected to a three-year term. The four-year terms began from 1998 elections.)

Taegeukgi - Flag of the Republic of Korea

___Foreign Policy

The top foreign policy priority of the Korean government is placed on laying the groundwork for the reduction of tension and peaceful coexistence on the Korean peninsula and fostering traditional relationships.

As part of steps to realize the goal, the Korean government is seeking a peaceful resolution to the North Korean nuclear issue through a process of close Korea-US-Japan cooperation on the basis of a firm Korea-U.S. alliance. Furthermore, it is developing ties of cooperation and partnership with China and Russia, while continuing efforts to persuade North Korea to comply with its nuclear non-proliferation obligations through inter-Korean dialogue channels. Moreover, it endeavors to enhance cooperation with other countries in the ASEAN and the European Union (EU), as well as international organizations such as the United Nations (UN).

In order to lay the groundwork for peaceful coexistence on the Korean peninsula, the two leaders of Korea and the United States reaffirmed the Korea-US. alliance at the summit held on May 14, 2003 in Washington, and agreed that all issues concerning the Korean Peninsula should be resolved through dialogue. Accordingly, in consultation with the United States, Korea will follow this up in concrete ways and focus its diplomatic efforts on gaining international support for the principles agreed to at the Korea-US summit.

Korea will also actively pursue economic diplomacy to improve Korea's international competitiveness, so that Korea may join the ranks of advanced nations. As part of the efforts, the Roh Moo-hyun government is seeking to develop Korea into an economic hub of Northeast Asia by:
1) pursuing inter-Korean economic exchange and cooperation;
2) establishing a system of Northeast Asian economic cooperation; and
3) building an infrastructure for a logistics and business hub. The scheme to build a logistics and business hub involves reconnecting the two inter-Korean railways and roads that are currently under construction, and establish a transportation network connecting with the Trans-Siberia Railway (TSR) and the Trans-China Railway (TCR).

The Korean government is also effectively addressing the changes in the global economic and trade environment. For example, it has participated in the Doha Development Agenda negotiations. In the area of agriculture, Korea will actively seek to reduce tariffs and subsidies even as it maintains the status of a developing country. The government has also signed a free trade agreement with Chile in February 2003.

At the same time, the government will continue to redouble the efforts to promote exports and attract foreign investment. It will also strengthen its trade relations with major trading partners including the United States, Japan, China and EU.

Other foreign policy priorities include promotion of democracy, human rights and multilateral cooperation, cultural diplomacy, and strengthening consular activities and promoting the interests of overseas Koreans.

Korea will continue to contribute to the resolution of various global issues in cooperation with international organizations. It is committed to actively participating in international cooperation for the spread of democratic values and the protection and promotion of human rights. It is also proactively committed to such worthy causes as the empowerment of women, protection and promotion of the well being of children, as well as the prevention of and countermeasures to trafficking in human beings and illegal drugs.

Korea will actively participate in regional cooperative forums such as APEC, ASEAN+3 and ASEM, and make the necessary preparations for the hosting of the 13th APEC Summit in 2005.

Korea will promote cultural exchanges with other countries to enhance mutual friendship and understanding. Through diplomatic and other missions abroad, Korea will continue to introduce Korean art and culture abroad.

It will also strive to further develop a HANSANG (Overseas Korean Businesspeople) network so that the network will contribute to Korea's efforts to become an economic hub of Northeast Asia and to the promotion of regional economic cooperation.



Prior to the economic crisis of 1997, Korea's impressive growth performance was part of what has been described as the East Asian miracle. The three decades of extraordinary growth that transformed Korea from one of the poorest agrarian economies to the 11th largest economy and exporting country in the world, culminated in its accession to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) on December 12, 1996. Korea's rapid development was driven by very high rates of savings and investment and a strong emphasis on education, which boosted the number of young people enrolled in universities to among the highest levels in the world.

Korea's path to development, however, was full of challenges and obstacles. After its independence from Japan in 1945, Korea's economic development was a matter of national survival. With limited natural resources, insufficient domestic market, and virtually no tradition of economic development experience, Korea set out to insure its sovereignty through establishing a stable and independent economy.

However, the Korean War (1950-1953) merely prolonged the economic instability and stagnation. The number of civilian war casualties, including those missing, was approximately 1.5 million, and the nonmilitary war damage incurred to buildings, structures, equipment, facilities and movable assets was estimated to be about US$ 3.1 billion at 1953 price.

The physical war damage incurred to the civilian economy was equivalent to about 85% of South Korea's 1953 GNP. During the postwar reconstruction period (1953-1960), the rate of economic growth was quite low despite the massive inflow of foreign aid. Nonetheless, between 1953 and 1995, Korea's GNP grew at an average annual rate of 7.6%, thus resulting in about 21-fold increase in the level of GNP.

Since the population increased by 2.2% annually during the same period, per capita GNP in real terms grew at the annual rate of 5.6%, or increased about 9.3 times. From 1953 to 1996, Korea's GDP increased from US$ 2.3 billion to US$ 480.2 billion, with per capita GNI rising from US$ 67 to US$ 10,543, at current prices. Over those years of rapid development, Korea's industrial structure has been drastically transformed. Major industries has diversified to automobiles, petrochemicals, electronics, shipbuilding, textiles, and steel products. The economy that in the past largely depended on agriculture currently boasts a sizable manufacturing sector, which accounts for over 257% of Korea's GDP in 1997. GDP growth rate was 5.0% in 1997 (6.8% in 1996 and 8.9% in 1995) but fell to -6.7% in 1998. It was 10.9% in 1999, 9.3% in 2000, 3.0% in 2001, and 6.3% in 2002. The size of GDP in 2002 was estimated at US$ 476.6 billion. The commodity trade volume reached more than US$ 274.9 billion in 1996, in contrast to US$ 477 million in 1962. The gross savings ratio rose to 34.8% from 11.0% during the same period. It recorded 29.9% in 2001.



___The Judiciary

In Korea, judicial power is vested in the courts, which the constitution established as an independent branch of the government. The court system functions on three levels: the Supreme Court, appellate courts (High Courts), and district courts (including branch courts). Besides the three-tier court system, the judiciary also operates a family court, an administrative court and a patent court. The courts hand down decisions in litigations involving civil, criminal, administrative, election and other matters.

__The Supreme Court
The Supreme Court, the highest judicial tribunal of the nation, consists of a Chief Justice and thirteen Justices. In the Court, located in Seoul, cases are heard by either the Grand Bench composed of the justices sitting "Full Bench," in which the entire membership of the court participates in the decision, or the Petty Benches, each of which is usually composed of four justices.

The Court deals with appeals against judgments or decisions rendered by the high courts and the appellate divisions of district courts. The Court also has exclusive jurisdiction over the validity of a presidential election or general elections. It is empowered to make a final review of the legality of administrative decrees, regulations or dispositions.
The Supreme Court may establish rules regarding internal regulations, administration of the court, and trial procedures.

The grounds for appeal to the Court are prescribed. In civil cases, they are limited to constitutional and legal questions pertaining to the judgments of lower courts. In criminal lawsuits, an appeal may be brought in case of violations of the constitution or the laws, the abolition, alteration or excuse of a penalty; a grave error in fact-finding; or extreme impropriety in sentencing.

__Appellate Court
An appellate court consists of a presiding judge and usually three associate judges. It hears appeals against verdicts of district or family courts in civil or criminal cases, administrative cases, or special cases designated by law. There are five appellate courts in the country - Seoul, Daegu, Busan, Gwangju and Daejeon. They hold their own trials and reach decisions for or against the verdicts of the lower courts. Only appellate courts can adjudicate administrative litigations filed by individuals or organizations against any government decisions, order, or disposition.

__District Court
District courts, which have primary jurisdiction over most cases, are set up in Seoul and 12 major cities, most of which are provincial capitals. The Seoul District Court is divided into two separate courts; the Seoul Civil District Court and the Seoul Criminal District Court. A single judge usually conducts trials at these courts, but a three-judge panel is mandatory in such serious cases as civil cases involving amounts in excess of 50 million won (about US$ 40,000), and criminal cases involving sentences of death, penal servitude or imprisonment of more than a year.

As of May 2002, there are 43 branch courts and 103 municipal courts in the nation. The primary purpose of these courts is to manage and deal with the affairs of the district courts. Municipal courts, which were created to maximize judicial services to local people, have replaced circuit courts. Municipal court judges preside over small claims, misdemeanor offenses, and divorce by mutual agreement.

The Family Court is empowered to hear all cases involving matrimonial, juvenile, or other domestic matters. Court sessions are closed to the public to insure the privacy of the individuals concerned. At present, the Family Court is located only in Seoul. In other places, the district court handles such matters.

The Administrative Court, opened in Seoul on March 1, 1998, hears administrative cases only. District courts outside of Seoul perform the functions of the Administrative Court in their respective districts.

The Patent Court, which heard its first case in Daejeon in March 1998, reviews decisions made by the Patent Office as an intermediate appellate venue. The Supreme Court plays a role as the final hearing of patent disputes. The ordinary district courts, however, still have jurisdiction over infringement cases.

__Qualification and Appointment
The President, with the consent of the National Assembly, appoints the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. The President also appoints other justices of the Court upon the recommendation of the Chief Justice. The Chief Justice selects lower court judges, while the President appoints all justices on the Constitutional Court. The Judiciary and the National Assembly together select a list of candidates from which the President must choose.

All judges are appointed from among the successful candidates who have passed the Judicial Civil Service Examination and completed the two-year training program at the Judicial Research and Training Institute.

__Constitutional Court
The Constitutional Court, established in September 1988, protects the Constitution by having the final say on the constitutionality of any law passed by the National Assembly. This is done through a majority decision of the Constitutional Court upon the request of a lower court, or upon request of a party who has filed a Constitutional complaint.

The Court also validates the legality of impeachment proceedings and judgments of any high-ranking public officials, including the President, Prime Minister or a judge.

The Constitutional Court also safeguards the Constitution by protecting the fundamental rights of citizens. Anyone whose fundamental rights, guaranteed by the Constitution, has been infringed upon may file a petition for relief or remedy to the Constitutional Court. Anyone whose constitutional rights have allegedly been aggrieved by a legislative act may also resort to the Court by means of a Constitutional complaint.


___National Defense

The Korean Peninsula still retains the scars of the Korean War (June 25, 1950 - July 27, 1953). The war ended with a cease-fire between North Korea and its ally China, on the one hand, and the US-led multinational United Nations Command, which participated in the war in support of South Korea, on the other. The truce has continued for over half a century now, with the nations still technically at war.

Recently, questions have been raised in some quarters as to whether the North Korean threat is real or imagined. The obvious answer is that the threat is real, and South Korea's fundamental position toward unification is that the first step is to achieve genuine peace. Another war must be deterred and avoided at all cost.

Even though perceptions of national security are changing as a result of improving inter-Korean relations, a strong Korea-U.S. alliance continues to provide the basis of Korea's national defense policies.

A 250km-long demilitarized zone (DMZ) bisects the peninsula into South and North Korea. Across the 4km-wide buffer zone, the two sides confront each other, making the area possibly the most militarized border in the world.

As of the end of 2000, the South has 690,000 armed forces, including 560,000 army troops, to the North's 1,170,000 that include one million ground forces. The South has a 67,000 navy and marine corps and a 63,000 air force to the North's 60,000 navy and 110,000 air force.

The North holds a numerical advantage over the South in the number of warships and aircraft as well as in reserve forces. In addition, it has long-range artillery and missiles capable of simultaneously attacking the front and rear areas in the South. Moreover, it has an estimated 2,500 to 5,000 tons of chemical and biological weapons.

The United States, under its 1954 Mutual Defense Treaty with the Republic of Korea (ROK), still maintains a force of 37,000 troops in South Korea. The US military presence has played a stabilizing role as well as served as an effective deterrent to Pyongyang's possible aggressive moves for over half a century. It has long been recognized that Seoul, the country's political, economic, cultural and educational hub, is vulnerable to North Korean attacks since it is located only 40kms from the DMZ. Partly for this reason, the bulk of US ground forces is stationed north of the capital to deter and, in the event of invasion, defend against the North Korean forces that might push down through the traditional invasion corridor.

All South Korean males, except for a small percentage of individuals considered physically unfit for military service, are required under the law to serve in the military from the age of 20 under a national draft system. After receiving six weeks of basic training, recruits are assigned to various units. The conscription system is flexible and allows most young men to plan their service in a way that would not seriously interfere with their career plans. The duration of service for the draftees in the army, the navy and the air force are currently 24, 26 and 28 months. And the terms are being shortened to meet the two-year goal in the near future.

There are several routes to be commissioned as officers - army, navy, or air force academies, reserve officer training corps (ROTC) programs offered at colleges, and officer cadet schools (OCS). Applicants to the military academies, which form the backbone of the field-grade officers, are chosen on the basis of their academic records, competitive examinations and physical fitness. Each academy offers a four-year curriculum to equip the cadets with knowledge, leadership training, military strategy and battlefield skills.

As South Korea grew increasingly democratic, the government established civilian control of the military, especially since the early 1990s.

The Ministry of Defense actively follows the directions that emerged from the Korea-US summit, with detailed actions, including close consultations over North Korea's conventional arms and missiles, as well as weapons of mass destruction. South Korea dispatched non-combat contingents in support of the US-led campaign against terrorism. The Korean troops are involved in medical service, engineering and transportation support.

To provide for a more stable environment for US troops in Korea, the Korean government is paying an equitable share of the costs under a burden-sharing agreement. The cost sharing includes land, housing, utilities and other expenses for the maintenance of US troops in Korea.

Taking advantage of its geopolitical setting in Northeast Asia, Korea is cooperating with its neighboring powers of Japan, China and Russia. Korea has been exchanging military leaders and conducting routine policy consultations with Japan, while Korea, Japan and the Untied States are engaged in a trilateral coordination of military policies in Northeast Asia. On the occasion of the 10th anniversary of the normalization of diplomatic relations, Korea and China exchanged visits of defense ministers and military leaders, engaged in bilateral military consultations, and welcomed a visit of a Chinese naval ship to Korea. South Korea has been strengthening bilateral policy consultations with Russia by expanding avenues of dialogue in military matters and of cooperation in sophisticated defense industries and technologies.

On the basis of a strong defense posture, South Korea is making progress in the field of "military confidence building" with North Korea in line with improving inter-Korean relations. A ROK-US joint study was launched as an ongoing project, and its first phase of study was completed in February 2002 after seven months' of work.

South Korea is patiently persuading the North that military confidence-building measures(CBM) constitute a shortcut to easing tensions and establishing peace on the peninsula and conveyed South Korean and American goodwill to Pyongyang via various channels. As part of CBM, the South Korean military is actively carrying out military measures in support of inter-Korean exchange and cooperation projects, including the reconnection of railways and roads.


___Health & Welfare

Since the inception of the first Five-year Economic Development Plan in 1962, the Korean people have experienced rapid socio-economic changes. During the following three decades, the Korean economy saw remarkable progress, so much so that by December 1996 Korea was able to join the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. One year later, however, the Korean economy was struck by an acute foreign exchange crisis, which led to an intervention of the International Monetary Fund (IMF). The crisis brought on massive unemployment and increased demand for welfare services, not to mention family disintegration and disparities in income levels among social strata. After several years of hard work, Korea was able to pay off in full the IMF loans in August 2001, three years ahead of schedule.

Even while the nation was struggling to cope with the 1997-98 financial crisis, the government firmly held to its welfare goals and introduced diverse policies to expand the social safety net. One of them is the Basic Livelihood Guarantee System, introduced in October 2000. Under the system, government subsidies were provided to more than 1.5 million people in 2001, a far cry from 370,000 recipients in December 1997. Those covered under the support program are entitled to receive the difference between their real incomes and the minimum cost of living, regardless of their age or ability to work.

The national pension scheme, first introduced in 1988, covered all workplaces with 10 or more employees. In April 1999, it was expanded to cover the entire working population. At the end of 2001, a total of 16.1 million workers have subscribed to the national pension program, individually or collectively, through their employers. As of the end of July 2003, some 992,000 subscribers are receiving pensions. The government has also introduced a pension plan for elderly people in rural areas. Citizens who are 60 years or older are entitled to pensions if they paid into the system for a minimum of five years.

Another major safety net is the unemployment insurance program that has been greatly expanded and restructured to help the legions of workers who were laid off due to the economic crisis or corporate restructuring. Unemployment insurance was launched in 1995 to cover only full-time workers at companies with 30 employees or more. It was expanded in October 1998 to include workers at all workplaces. In order to better support the unemployed, the benefit period has been extended and the amount of assistance increased.

Before July 2000, the Industrial Accident Insurance Program was applied to companies with five or more workers. To aid the victims of industrial accidents and their families, coverage for industrial accident compensation insurance was expanded in July of 2000 to include self-employed workers. Recognizing that those employed in the workforce were not the only ones in need of assistance, services for the elderly, the disabled, and children have also been improved and expanded under new government programs and policies.

To help stabilize the basic living conditions of low-income elderly persons, the government has significantly expanded the definition of target population that would be eligible for subsistence grants. The number of such persons increased to 715,000 in July of 1998 from 265,000 before the program was initiated. As part of the program to improve health and medical services for the aged, the number of nursing homes for the elderly and treatment centers for senile dementia rose to 121 in 2000.

As social security measures were strengthened since the late 1980s, efforts to meet the needs of the handicapped have also increased. In December 1997, the Ministry of Health and Welfare developed first "Five-Year Welfare Development Plan for the Handicapped." The plan is being carried out its second five-year term in cooperation with other executive departments of the government, including the Ministry of Education and Human Resources Development and the Ministry of Labor.

This development plan envisages, first, to improve overall welfare by expanding public subsidy programs, installing more facilities for the handicapped in public places, and building more welfare centers; second, to increase the number of educational institutions that provide job training; and third, to increase employment opportunities by providing subsidies and incentives to employers.

The government's future health care policy to become an advanced health care society calls for establishment of lifetime health maintenance systems, an efficient health care service and promotion of health care industry by revising relevant laws. The government envisages the average life expectancy to be 75 and the infant mortality rate to be under 7.0 percent by 2003. It also plans to cap the rate of chronic diseases to about 24 - 25 percent. To help attain these goals, the government plans to cut adult smoking rate from 35.1 percent to 30 percent and corpulence rate from 20.6 percent in 1995 to 15.0 percent by 2003.



___Labor Policy

A well-educated and highly motivated workforce was the powerful engine behind Korea's remarkable economic growth over the past four decades. As the authoritarian regimes gave way to democratic ones, Korean workers began to actively demand due rights and rewards. The demands often took the form of violent clashes with management or law enforcement, as selfish motives spilled over into the bargaining processes.

In the interim, there has developed a perception that industrial relations in Korea are rather confrontational. After several years of head-on clashes, however, labor-management cooperation is rapidly spreading and a new labor-management culture is emerging. Both labor and management are beginning to focus on building an environment in which both sides exercise autonomy and responsibility and engage in cooperation based on mutual trust and respect. Following the financial crisis of 1997-98, they came to share the view that a "win-win strategy" based on labor-management cooperation was more conducive to greater benefits for both.

Based on this common understanding, labor and management under the advice of the government reached a Tripartite Agreement in February 1998 and launched the Tripartite Commission of Labor, Management, and Government. The agreement included measures to introduce flexibility into the labor market. They included labor-management cooperation, layoffs by the management and manpower leasing system as well as measures to stabilize wages.

The agreement greatly contributed to helping the nation overcome the economic crisis and raise its international trust. The Tripartite Committee, which used to be an advisory panel, was made into a legal entity in May 1999. Currently, it serves as a forum for consensus building among different groups and for improvement of labor-related regulations.

The government has gone to great lengths to create a new labor-management culture embodying the principles of participation and cooperation. In doing so, it has been trying to help build mutual trust between labor and management by reinforcing the labor-management council. It has also been making efforts to promote management transparency, while raising awareness of workers' responsibilities. In the course of reforming corporate restructures to overcome the financial crisis, there have been cases of violent demonstrations staged by laid-off workers. However, as the new labor-management culture began to bear fruit, peaceful and cooperative labor-management culture began to take root.

In addition to the three basic labor rights that have been expanded in a forward-looking manner, tangible measures were taken to help those laid off tide during the national financial crisis. They included emergency measures to help the unemployed with funds of 10 trillion won ($7.69 billion) and 16 trillion won ($12.3 billion) during 1998 - 1999 to expand the employment insurance system and the minimum wage system, as well as the "wage claim guarantee fund." Also expanded was the scope of the Labor Act applications to cover workplaces with more than 5 employees.

Meanwhile, to guarantee trade union activities, the government legalized the teachers' unions and permitted the formation of government employees' councils in 1999. It also allowed unions to take part in political activities and legalized the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions, a hard-line labor group. Based on its past successes in labor relations, the government decided in 1998 to foster a new labor-management environment, one based on participation and cooperation. This policy has since become one of its major labor policy goals.

The Participatory Government started on a labor-friendly note in early 2003 trying to keep the balance in labor-management relationship, which it saw was biased in favor of the latter. A series of massive strikes, many of them illegal, plunged the nation into economic disruptions, prompting uncertainties and concerns among the population. The disruptive industrial actions, however, served as a wake-up call for the government. It professed to adhere to the relevant laws in dealing with them, setting a collision course with the labor force.

In line with international standards, the government introduced August 30, 2003, a five-day workweek, which reduces working hours to 40 hours per week from the current 44. Private companies with more than 1,000 employees as well as the public sector will have to adopt the shorter workweek system from July 1, 2004, and those with 300 employees or more a year later on July 1, 2005. The shorter week should be implemented in all workplaces by 2011.

There were a total of 6,150 trade unions with 1.57 million members in 2001, up 7.9 percent and 2.7 percent, from a year earlier. However, the rate of union membership was 12 percent, little changed from 2000. There are two major union organizations; the Federation of Korean Trade Union (FKTU) and the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions, with the former consisting of 28 industrial union groups and the latter 14.




In the 1880s, modern schools were first introduced in Korea, as the nation began to open itself to Western culture. When the Republic of Korea was established in 1948, the nation instituted a 6-6-4 national educational system In 1953, six years of elementary school education became mandatory and free for all children. Today, Koreans enjoy a highest literacy rate in the world. Many experts have observed that Korea owes much of its economic success to its highly educated workforce.

__School System
Today, the Korean school system follows a 6-3-3-4 pattern, which consists of elementary school (1st to 6th grades), middle school (7th to 9th grades), high school (10th to 12th grades) and university (or 4, 3 or 2-year colleges). Elementary schools provide six years of compulsory education to children between the ages of 6 and 11. Middle schools offer three years of secondary education to those aged 12 to 14, while high schools provide three years of advanced secondary education to those aged 15 to 17.

High schools are divided into two categories, general and vocational. General high schools teach various liberal arts subjects including the humanities, social sciences and natural sciences. This category also includes the areas of arts, physical education, science, and foreign languages, while vocational schools concentrate on practical skills and training in such areas as computers, accounting, mechanical engineering, handicraft, agriculture and marine culture.
Institutions of higher learning include junior (vocational) colleges and four-year colleges/universities. At this level, students are free to choose between 2, 3, and 4-year college education, depending on one's aspirations and available resources. College entrance examination is highly competitive and requires careful preparation.

There are also special schools offering elementary and secondary education for the deaf, blind and others with learning difficulties. Preschool education is provided by kindergartens.

__Elementary Education
Elementary school enrollment showed a sharp increase from 1952, reaching a peak of more than 5 million in 1971. Such a phenomenal increase resulted in crowded classrooms, with more than 90 pupils crammed in one classroom in some schools during those years. In 1960, the average number of students per teacher stood at 58.8. By 2001, the year for which the latest statistics are available, the number has dramatically decreased to 35.6.

As of the end of 2001, the nation had 5,322 elementary schools, where over 4 million pupils were enrolled and were staffed by 142,715 teachers.

The basic curricula for the elementary school education are generally divided into nine principal subjects: ethics, Korean language, social studies, arithmetic, natural science, physical education, music, fine arts and the practical arts.

__Secondary Education
The number of middle school students also showed an impressive rate of growth in recent decades. The percentage of elementary school graduates advancing to middle school increased from 58.4 percent in 1969 to 99.9 percent in 2001. As of 2001, there were 2,770 middle schools across the nation with a total enrollment of 1.83 million.

The "middle school entrance examination" was abolished in 1969, and students are usually assigned to middle schools located in their district of residence. Mandatory education for middle school began in 2002.
General high schools teaching humanities totaled 1,210 as of 2001, with an enrollment of 2.25 million (2,259,975). Vocational high schools numbering 759 were teaching 651,198 students. In the same year, 99.5 percent of middle school graduates advanced to high schools.

__Higher Education
There are five categories of institutions of higher learning: (1) junior colleges (2-3 years); (2) colleges and universities with four-year undergraduate programs (six-year medical schools); (3) universities of education or normal schools; (4) theological colleges and seminaries and (5) graduate schools.
About 80 percent of these institutions are private. Whether public or private, they come under the supervision of the Ministry of Education and Human Resources Development. The Ministry has control over such matters as the number of students each institution can accommodate, teacher qualifications, curricula and degree requirements.
The curricula are composed of general and professional courses and each is again divided into required and elective courses. In 1945 there were only 19 institutions of higher learning across the nation, including North Korea. By 2001, 1261 institutions were registered in South Korea alone. A total of 3,500,560 students were enrolled at these institutions, staffed by 58,532 faculty members.

__Graduate Schools
Under the nation's Education Act, a university must have one or more graduate schools offering research-oriented courses for graduate students. As of 2001, there were 887 general graduate schools in the universities and 18 professional graduate schools. As of 2001, the total enrollment in graduate courses across Korea was 243,270.

__Special Education
The first special education in Korea was offered in 1894, when a school for the blind was set up in Pyongyang, in the northern part of Korea. Since then, similar projects to help educate the handicapped persons have been launched by a number of social service and charity organizations. The government assumed responsibility for the schools for the blind in 1945. Two years later, they were incorporated into the nation's secondary educational system In 1950, a special teacher-training course was opened, and by 1977 the government enacted the Law for the Promotion of Special Education.

The number of schools for students with special needs has steadily increased over the years. As of 2001, there were 134 institutions for special education across the nation, with a total enrollment of 23,769. They include 12 schools for the blind, 19 for the deaf and mute, and 18 for the physically challenged, and 85 for the mentally retarded.


School Children
School Children © KOIS

___Science and Technology

Korea's prowess in science and technology (S&T) has been growing steadily since the 1980s, as the country's rapid economic development has demanded more advanced and dynamic research and development (R&D) activities.

Investments in technology have increased 20-fold from $480 million in 1980 to $10 billion in 2000, while technology investment per gross domestic product (GDP) has soared from 0.84 percent to 2.68 percent during the same period. Even in the middle of the foreign currency crisis of 1997-98 and the ensuing economic hardship, Korea was able to raise R&D investment from 3.6 percent of the total government budget to 4.7 percent, which amounted to $3.85 billion in 2002. The number of specialists engaged in science and technology has surged from 18,500 in 1980 to 160,000 in 2000.

This quantitative growth led to increases in the number of research papers registered with the science citation index (SCI) and international patent applications. In addition, Korea ranked 5th in the world in the S&T achievement indicator developed by the UN Development Program, which takes into account patent registration, technology exports and overall education levels. It also ranked 10th in the Financial Times' knowledge-based indicator.

In recent years, however, a decreasing number of young students seem to choose careers in S&T-related areas and the morale among scientists and engineers is lower than before. In addition, the rapid expansion of science and technology investment has raised concerns over its efficiency.

To cope with this worrisome situation, the government created the National Science and Technology Council (NSTC) in April 1999 to strengthen the overall coordination of national S&T policies. The NSTC would also enhance the efficiency of R&D investment by concentrating on the development of technologies in the fields of information technology (IT), biotechnology, nanotechnology, environmental technology, cultural contents technology and space science. Its main role is to coordinate major policies for promoting S&T, expand the S&T-related investment and set priorities for national R&D programs. The NSTC consists of 19 members including the cabinet members related to science and technology. The President chairs the council.

The government will continue to boost the country's industrial competitiveness by combining information technology, nanotechnology, and biotechnology with the nation's strategic areas such as semiconductor, shipbuilding, automobile, steel, chemistry, and textile industries.
To promote basic science and foster high caliber, creative researchers and scientists, the government will increase its budgetary investment in basic sciences from 19 percent in 2002 to 25 percent by 2006, and foster some 400,000 experts in six national strategic areas:
IT, biotechnology, nanotechnology, space science, environment and cultural technologies by 2005. It will also take various steps to tap the talents of women in the development of technology. Some of the measures include an employment quota system for women and recruiting more female students to science and technology fields.

To help boost the morale of scientists and engineers, the government plans to establish a National Research Fellowship System, so that dedicated researchers are recognized with presidential awards and have access to research funds and pension benefits.
The government will also actively seek to internationalize Korean R&D activities to challenge the global R&D networks and trends. To this end, the government will gradually open its R&D projects to foreign institutions and researchers to build a quality research environment for both leading foreign researchers and local scientists.


science and technology
Korean science and technology © KOIS

___Environmental Policy

Rapid economic development achieved during the past four decades has brought a remarkable improvement in the Korean people's standard of living. However, rapid industrialization, urbanization and increased consumption have inevitably given rise to environmental pollution on a scale unprecedented in Korea. Household and industrial waste and excessive use of chemicals and fertilizers have led to eutrophic seas, rivers and lakes, resulting in a drastic decline in the number of fish species. In addition, various reclamation projects each year reduce by about 2 percent the total 2,313 square kilometers of tidal flats along the western and southern coasts of the Korean peninsula. Overcoming environmental degradation has already become a major concern for Korea's national development strategy.

__Air Quality
Recent surveys show that overall air quality in Korea has improved due to a number of measures taken by the government, including the supply of clean fuels and low sulfur gasoline, in addition to the introduction of LEVs (low emission vehicles).

However, the level of concentration of nitrogen dioxide in the air is slowly rising largely due to emissions from motor vehicles, as is the case in other advanced countries.

The government will work out a set of measures to improve the air quality of the Seoul metropolitan area up to the average level of OECD countries by 2013. The measure under consideration includes division of Seoul and its suburbs into districts to apportion permissible emission limits beginning in 2004. The measure specifically aims to control the total emission volume by various gas-emitting facilities and equipments such as plants, power-generating facilities and motor vehicles. Since the industrial sector would face hardships in meeting the new requirements, the new standards will be implemented in phases.

The government also plans to toughen the permissible emission standards for new automobiles that will be rolling out of the assembly lines beginning in 2006 up to the level of advanced countries.

__Water Quality
Water quality in the Han-gang River and other major rivers has been improving since 1997 after years of deterioration from 1993 to 1995 due to severe drought. But the rivers lost their natural ability to clean themselves due to shortages of rainfall, which then caused concentrations of various pollutants to rise again. Over a quarter of the Korean population lives in the Seoul metropolitan area, and they depend on the Paldang reservoir at the upper Han-gang River for their tap water. Biochemical oxygen demand (BOD) levels at the Paldang water reservoir reached 1.5 ppm in 2000. The BOD level has improved to 1.3 ppm in 2001, showing some improvement in water quality.

To tackle the looming water shortage problem and improve the quality of drinking water, the government came up with a comprehensive water management plan last year. Under the plan, a total of 3.8 trillion won ($2.9 billion) will be invested to replace 42,000 km of aged water pipes across the nation, a main source of water loss.

The government's plan for clean water supply is also placing emphasis on improving the function of existing dams and building multi-purpose reservoirs that will also help store water for emergency use.

Korea's per capita water consumption stood at 183 liters a day in 1997, higher than the 116 liters in Germany, 137 liters in France and 153 liters in England.
The amount of solid waste produced nationwide at the end of 2001 totaled 260,758 tons per day with the proportion of household waste accounting for 48,499 tons per day. A decade ago, in 1991, 89.2 percent of household garbage went to landfills and only 7.9 percent was recycled. However, since 1998 when the nation introduced the quantity-based disposal fee system and tighter recycling policies, trash going to landfills was reduced to 43 percent and the recycling rate was raised to 43 percent in 2001.

Of the household garbage, 59.5 percent was inflammable waste, but only 12 percent was earmarked for incineration in 2000. Since the nation suffers from a severe shortage of landfill space, the situation called for an urgent remedy, hence the government's overall environmental plan.

__Nature Conservation
According to the 2001 government estimates, 18,052 species of animals and 8,271 species of plants thrive in Korea. But, the numbers have been dwindling and many are on the verge of extinction due to the degradation of wildlife habitat and reckless poaching. The Ministry of Environment designated 151 wildlife species, including the Asian black bear, also known as the "moon bear," as endangered species subject to full protection.

In order to fulfill Korea's responsibilities as a member of the Convention on Bio-Diversity and to protect Korea's own biodiversity, the government formulated a national strategy for the conservation of biological diversity in 1995. As a result, the government is conducting a national survey (1996 to 2003) to identify the habitats and ecological characteristics of wild plants and animals. Based on the results of these surveys, the government will classify all endangered wildlife species into several categories such as extinct, endangered, rare or decreasing and will work out measures for preserving and managing local natural resources in a more systematic way.




The era of globalization and economic liberalization has drawn new attention to the importance of transportation and logistics. An increasing number of businesses have begun to look for access to logistics hubs that offer better business environment and comparative advantages. In order to meet this challenge in modern logistics, Korea has steadily pursued logistics modernization programs. Ultimately, Korea hopes to become a logistics hub in Northeast Asia.

The nation's aviation market has been expanding at an annual rate of 14 percent on domestic routes and 22 percent on international lines since the 1970s. From the late 1980s the government took a variety of actions to stimulate the industry. One was deregulation and the other was licensing a second carrier, Asiana Airlines. Moving into the 21st century, the government continues to expand its air transport improvement programs. As a result, Korea now has two flag carriers, Korean Air and Asiana that offer services to and from as many as 82 foreign cities across 30 countries, carrying up to 42 million passengers annually. The combined rank of Korean Air and Asiana is 6th in cargo handling and 11th in the passenger-carrying capability in the world. Korean Air Lines (KAL), the predecessor of Korean Air, started operation with two small passenger planes in the 1960s.

The new Incheon International Airport, 25 miles west of Seoul, is vying to become an air transport hub of Northeast Asia. The new high-tech airport, which opened for service in March 2001, boasts 27 million in passenger capacity and 1.7 million tons in freight per year. When the final phase of the airport construction is completed in 2020, its yearly capacity would jump to 100 million passengers and 7.5 million tons of cargo. The airport is strategically located at the geographic center of Northeast Asia, and 40 cities, with a population of over one million, are within a three-hour flight from this modern airport.

More than 800 international flights per week are currently flying between Seoul and major cities around the world. Gimpo Airport (the former Kimpo) is the nation's second largest airport, and serves domestic routes, with its passenger capacity standing at 25.5 million per year. It also provides backup service for Incheon International Airport.

Ports in Korea handle an estimated 99 percent of the nation's entire export and import freight. Thus the ports represent both the core distribution arm of the Korean economy and the center of logistics, waterfront industries, fisheries and international trade.

The Port of Busan (the former Pusan), located in southeastern Korea, is the nation's principal gateway linking the Pacific Ocean to the Asian continent. In 2001, it processed a total of 7.9 million TEU in freight, becoming the world's third largest port (in terms of container shipments). The port handles about 43 percent of the nation's exports and 95 percent of the total container loads. Currently, it is serving more than 50 foreign carriers from all over the world, proving that it has already become a hub port, both regionally and globally.

In order to increase port capacities, the government is currently in the process of expanding two major ports, the Ports of Busan and Kwangyang. In 2001, when the initial expansion works at these ports were completed, Korea's container handling capacity rose to 8 million TEUs. The capacity will increase to a total of 14 million TEUs by 2011. The construction of an additional container terminal is also under way near Gadeokto, west of Busan. When completed, the piers would serve a total of 24 modernized berths. The first ten berths are scheduled for completion in 2005.

In terms of total cargo transport (exports and imports), Korea handled 886 million tons in 2001, which represented almost a 100-fold increase from the 9 million tons in the 1960s. As of April 2002, 28 international trade ports are in operation in Korea.

__Improvement of Logistics Systems
Under the 10-year Freight Transportation Improvement Plan, the government aims to establish a hub-and-spoke distribution network, linking all major transportation centers across the nation. To achieve the goal, the government will continue to construct freight distribution facilities. In all, 39 freight distribution facilities, including truck terminals, warehouses, wholesale markets, will be constructed by 2011, in addition to highway networks. These facilities would certainly facilitate a more systematic movement of goods at lower logistics cost.


Korean shipyard
Korean shipyard © KOIS

___Sports in Korea

Traditionally, Korean people have enjoyed a variety of sports activities and games. The impressive economic advancement of recent years has brought about a flourishing interest in sports. More and more Koreans are now exercising and competing in organized sports.
The successful co-hosting of the 2002 FIFA World Cup finals is regarded as the most significant event in the nation's history of sports, along with the hosting of the 1988 Seoul Olympics. The first ever co-hosted event in FIFA history, the 17th World Cup saw South Korea catapult into the semifinals for the first time to the astonishment of the world. The amazing performance of the Korean team improved Korea's image dramatically, etching the brand "Korea" in the minds of people around the world. The outpouring of "Red Devils" across the country to support their team during the World Cup illustrated potent cohesiveness of the Korean people as a whole. An estimated 3.5 million soccer fans from around the world came to the matches held in the two countries, while billions of TV viewers around the world watched the games.

Considering the size and population of Korea, its performance in international sports competitions has been outstanding. Korea qualified for the World Cup finals six times, including five times in a row since 1986, which is unparalleled in Asia. Other events in which Koreans consistently make strong showings include short-track speed skating, marathon, judo, boxing, wrestling, archery, shooting, badminton, handball and field hockey.

Recently, Korean baseball stars have begun to make a name for themselves in American and Japanese leagues. Park Chan-ho pitches for the Texas Rangers and Kim Byung-hyun is piling up strikeouts with the Boston Red Sox. Seo Jae-woong is pitching for the New York Mets. Many European and Japanese football teams have also recruited Korean soccer players.

In golf, Korea has recently produced many world-class players. In particular, professional female golfers such as Pak Seri, Kim Mi-hyun, Han Hee-won and Grace Park distinguished themselves by winning several LPGA or Women's US Open titles. Choi Kyung-ju charged his way to win two PGA titles in 2002 alone.

In tennis, Lee Hyung-taik became the first Korean man ever to win a major international event when he won the Adidas International tournament held in Sydney, Australia in January 2003.

The government has been carrying out a Five-Year National Sports Promotion Plan (2003-2007) with a total budget of 2.8 trillion won ($2.3 billion). Major objectives of the plan include the promotion of a "sports-for-all" movement, the support for "elite sports," and the development of new sports technology and information to foster sports industries. A considerable portion of the fund is being funneled into the construction of public sports facilities.

The most popular spectator sports in Korea are soccer, baseball, basketball, volleyball, and the traditional Korean wrestling "Ssireum." These sports naturally have many followers who would form clubs and practice the sports themselves regularly. Other popular sports include mountain hiking, jogging, badminton, swimming, aerobics, table tennis, bowling, squash, tennis and golf. The large number of mountain hikers, in particular, is attributable to Koreans' love of nature, plus the fact that 70 percent of the country is mountainous.

One important aspect of the government's sports policy is the promotion of exchanges with North Korea. The Korean government has long pursued participation in sports events with North Korea, since sports is one of the most effective means of reconciling the divided people. As a result, North Korean sports delegations participated in the two international events South Korea hosted recently, the Busan Asian Games in 2002 and the Daegu Universiade games in 2003.

The traditional martial art of Taekwondo is well known around the world and Korea is the origin and promoter of this internationally popular sport. Taekwondo has spread to 153 countries today and has an estimated 40 million practitioners worldwide. It made its debut as an official Olympic sport in the 2000 Sydney Olympics.

As of March 2003, Korea signed bilateral sports exchange agreements with 27 countries, and exchange arrangements with 43 National Olympic Committees.


Martial Art - Taekwondo © KOIS


Recently, Korea adopted a new system of romanization of Korean names, hence slightly different ways of spelling. Some examples follow:

New usage (Old usage)
International Airports
Incheon International Airport (New)
Gimpo International Airport (Kimpo International Airport )
Gimhae International Airport (Kimhae International Airport )
Daegu International Airport (Taegu International Airport )
Cheongju International Airport (Chongju International Airport )
Jeju International Airport (Cheju International Airport )

__Rivers and Mountains
Han-gang River (Hangang) - "gang" stands for river.
Bukhangang River (Pukan-gang)
Mt. Geumgangsan (Kumgangsan) - "san" stands for mountain.
Mt. Seoraksan (Soraksan)
Mt. Jirisan (Chirisan)

__Frequently Used Names
Beopjusa (Popchusa) temple - a national treasure
Bulguksa (Pulguksa) temple - a national treasure
Bundang (Pundang), a southern satellite city of Seoul
Daegwallyeong (Taegwallyong) - a ski resort
Daehangno (Taehangno), a university boulevard for music, art, theatre
Deoksugung (Toksugung), a palace next to Seoul City Hall
Dongdaemun (Tongdaemun), East Gate of Seoul
Euljiro (Ulchiro), an east-west boulevard in downtown Seoul
Ganghwado (Kanghwado), an island off the West Coast near Incheon
Gangnam (Kangnam), southern Seoul
Gangneung (Kangnung), an east coast city
Goyang (Koyang), a satellite city west of Seoul
Gwacheon (Kwachon), a satellite city south of Seoul
Gyeongbokgung (Kyongbokgung), the main palace in downtown Seoul
Jamsil (Chamshil), the Olympic Stadium town in eastern Seoul
Jindo (Chindo), an island off Korea's southwestern coast
Jongno (Chongno), a boulevard running east-west in downtown Seoul
Jung-gu (Chung-gu), a central district in Seoul
Sinchon (Shinchon), a university town west of Seoul (Yonsei, Ewha, Sogang Universities).
Seongnam (Songnam), a satellite city southeast of Seoul
Uijeongbu (Uijongbu), a satellite city north of Seoul
Yeouido (Youido), an island town in Seoul (National Assembly, Stock Exchange)

__Korean Kingdoms and Dynasties
Prehistoric times - circa 57 BC. Gojoseon (Kochoson)
57 BC - AD 935 Silla (Shilla)
37 BC - AD 668 Goguryeo (Koguryo)
18 BC - AD 660 Baekje (Paekche)
698 - 926 Balhae (Palhae)
918 - 1392 Goryeo (Koryo)
1392 - 1910 Joseon (Choson)
1910 - 1945 (Japanese colonial occupation)
1945 - 1948 (US-Soviet millitary occupation)
1948 - present Daehanminguk (Taehanminguk) - The Republic of Korea

__The Republic of Korea (established on August 15, 1948)
1948 - 1960 President Syngman Rhee
1960 - 1961 President Yun Po-sun (Prime Minister Chang Myon)
1961 - 1963 General Park Chung-hee (under titular President Yun)
1963 - 1979 President Park Chung-hee
1979 - 1980 President Choi Kyu-hah (acting)
1980 - 1981 President Chun Doo-hwan (under old Constitution)
1981 - 1988 President Chun Doo-hwan (under new Constitution)
1988 - 1993 President Roh Tae-woo (under new Constitution)
1993 - 1998 President Kim Young-sam
1998 - 2003 President Kim Dae-jung
2003 - 2008 President Roh Moo-hyun (His term ends on Feb. 25, 2008)

(Source: with friendly permission by Korean Overseas Information Service (KOIS))


Chinese and Hangeul characters, Hangeul is the Korean writing system© KOIS
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