South Korea

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Daehan Minguk
Republic of Korea
Flag of South Korea
South Korea coat of arms
flag emblem
Official language Korean
Capital Seoul
State and form of government semi-presidential republic
Head of state President
Moon Jae-in
Head of government Prime Minister
Chung Sye-kyun
surface 100.210 (2018); ( 106. ) km²
population 51.7 million ( 28th ) (2019; estimate)
Population density 529 inhabitants per km²
Population development + 0.2% (estimate for 2019)
gross domestic product
  • Total (nominal)
  • Total ( PPP )
  • GDP / inh. (nom.)
  • GDP / inh. (KKP)
  • $ 1.6 trillion ( 12. )
  • $ 2.3 trillion ( 14. )
  • 31,497 USD ( 30. )
  • 44,621 USD ( 30. )
Human Development Index 0.916 ( 23. ) (2019)
currency Won (KRW)
founding August 15, 1948
independence August 15, 1945 (from Japan )
National anthem Aegukga
National holiday August 15th ( Independence Day )
Time zone UTC + 9 ( KST )
License Plate ROK
ISO 3166 KR , KOR, 410
Internet TLD .kr and . 한국
Phone code +82
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South Korea satellite image

The Republic of Korea ( Korean : 대한민국 , Hanja :大韓民國, IPA [ ˈtɛ̝ːɦa̠nminɡuk̚ ], revised Romanization : Daehan Minguk , McCune-Reischauer : Taehan Min'guk ), usually called South Korea , is located in East Asia and occupies the southern part of the Korean Peninsula . The only land border is the 243 km long border with the northern neighbor North Korea . The two successor states of Chōsen were founded in 1948 in the emerging Cold War ; the Korean War that followed cemented the division of Korea . The north is socialist and autocratic , while in capitalist , diplomatically west- oriented South Korea, parliamentary democracy has been established over time. In the west, South Korea borders on the Yellow (in South Korea: West Sea), in the south on the East China and in the east on the Japanese Sea (in South Korea: East Sea).

With around 51.7 million inhabitants, South Korea is one of the 30 most populous countries in the world and one of the most densely populated with over 500 inhabitants per square kilometer. Around half of the population lives in the metropolitan area of ​​the capital Seoul , a cosmopolitan city with the fourth largest economic output in the world. Over two million people live in the cities of Busan , Incheon, and Daegu , respectively .

“The miracle on the Han River”, as the period of rapid economic upswing from 1962 is called, quickly transformed South Korea from a poor agricultural country into a modern industrial state . One also speaks of a tiger state . The South Korean industry has achieved a dominant position in the production of ships and electronic products such as semiconductors , microchips , flat screens and computers . This also increases the country's cultural significance, which is expressed, for example, in the Korean wave . The country is a member of the United Nations , the G20 , the OECD , the APEC and ASEAN + 3 .

State name

The official German state name is Republic of Korea ; colloquially, however, one usually speaks of South Korea . In Korean , the country is officially called Daehan Minguk ( 대한민국 ,大韓民國; dt. "Republic of wholesale Korea"). In South Korea it is generally called in its short form Hanguk ( 한국 ,韓國, "Korea State") or Namhan ( 남한 ,南韓, "South Korea"), in contrast to Bukhan ( 북한 ,北韓, "North Korea"). Since in North Korea “Korea” is not referred to as Han ( ,) but as Chosŏn ( 조선 ,朝鮮), “South Korea” is called Nam-Chosŏn ( 남조선 ,南朝鮮) there.

The word Han ( ,) goes back to the historical Samhan Empire ( 삼한 ,三 韓; "Three Koreas"), which was formed from the Mahan , Jinhan and Byeonhan kingdoms and was founded in the period from the first to the fourth century AD. duration. This name was taken up again in the name of the Daehan Jeguk Empire ( Empire of Greater Korea ) founded in 1897 .

The name in Western languages ​​has its origins in Cauly , as Marco Polo called the peninsula during his travels in the late 13th century. This is probably based on the Chinese pronunciation of the Korean kingdom Goryeo (Chinese Gāolì ). The two spellings Corea and Korea appear in European records well into the 20th century . In English and German-speaking finally the spelling sat with K the case with, in Romance languages C by.


South Korea's area is 100,284 square kilometers. Of this, 290 square kilometers are water surfaces; there are no major natural lakes.

South Korea comprises the southern part of the Korean Peninsula and offshore islands. Near the west coast and in the south-east lies flat land, but almost everywhere interspersed with hills, which makes up no more than a third of the national territory but is home to the vast majority of the population. Most of the rest of the country is mountainous; apart from a narrow strip on the east coast and in small valley bottoms there are no low plains. Both the mountains and the hills of the plains are mostly forested; although they rarely reach great heights, they often have a steep relief .

Mountains and mountain ranges

Hallasan Mountain in Jeju-do

About 70% of South Korea is mountainous. The highest mountain is the Hallasan volcano with 1950 meters on the island of Jeju , on the South Korean mainland the highest is the Jirisan in the south with 1915 meters and the Seoraksan in the northeast with 1708 meters. South Korea is crossed by five major mountains, the largest being the Taebaek Mountains . It begins in southeastern North Korea and then stretches along almost the entire east coast of South Korea. The second largest mountain range , called Sobaek , branches off from the Taebaek in a south-westerly direction; it runs through the center of the country. The Gwangju , Charyeong and Noryang Mountains are smaller . The main watershed that runs from North Korea over the Seoraksan to the Jirisan is called Baekdudaegan ( 백두 대간 ;白頭 大幹).


Four major rivers run through South Korea. The longest of them is called Nakdonggang and has a length of 525 kilometers. It arises from the confluence of two source rivers in the Taebaek Mountains near the city of Taebaek and from there, unlike most rivers in the country, flows south and flows into the East Sea at Busan . The second longest river with 497.5 kilometers is the Hangang , the north arm of which has its source in North Korea. Its southern arm also rises on Mount Taebaek. Both Han rivers unite about 35 kilometers from Seoul , before they flow through the capital in the middle and shortly afterwards flow into the Yellow Sea as a border river to North Korea. Other major rivers are the Geumgang (401 km) and the Seomjingang (212 km).

Coast and islands

Section of the south coast

South Korea meets the sea on three sides:

The coasts in the west and south have many bays and peninsulas as ria , with around 4400 medium-sized and smaller islands in front of them. Less than 500 of them are inhabited. The second largest Wadden Sea in the world, called Saemangeum, is also located on the west coast . The east coast, which is poor in bays and steep in many places, has only a few and very small islands and rocks in front of it.

The largest island by far is called Jejudo . It is located around 150 kilometers south of the southwest coast of the mainland, is 1,845.6 square kilometers and forms the province of Jeju-do with a few small islands .

Flora and fauna

About two thirds of the country are forested. The original mixed forests with oak , maple , beech , elm , poplar , spruce and aspen have given way to secondary forest in many places , as a great deal of forest has fallen victim to the need for firewood and slash-and- burn farming . Coniferous forest with spruce and larch follows at higher elevations . The flora of South Korea is considerably more species-rich than that of Central Europe . The easily visible higher plants alone are represented with around 3400 species and subspecies in 880 genera. Korea's range of plants extends from alpine pines and rhododendrons above the tree line in the northern mountains to subtropical bamboo , laurel and camellias on the warm south coast and on Jejudo.

Large mammals such as tigers , leopards, and bears were common throughout the Korean Peninsula; however, they have practically disappeared from South Korea through deforestation and poaching . Lynx and Bengal cats live in the forests, and there are seals on the coasts . Notable bird species are the mandarin duck , the white-bellied woodpecker , red-crowned crane and Collar Zwergohreule . About 3.9% of the state area of ​​South Korea is under nature protection.


South Korea lies in the temperate climate zone , in which there are four different seasons. Exceptions are some subtropical valleys on the south coast of Jejudo and some high altitude regions over 1700 meters.

Climate diagram Seoul

Spring usually begins between late March and early April and is mild and quite sunny. The winds then often carry fine yellow desert dust from the Gobi desert to South Korea. In summer, southerly winds bring in hot, humid air from the Philippines. The summer monsoon season , called Jangma ( 장마 ) in South Korea , usually begins at the end of June or the beginning of July and extends into September. Much of the annual rainfall falls during this time. Rain alternates with clear days. This is followed by a very hot midsummer, which is difficult to bear, especially due to the high humidity. The maximum daily temperature then often exceeds 30 ° C, accompanied by a humidity of 80 to 95%.

Autumn sets in in mid-September when the winds blow from the northwest again. The dry continental air provides plenty of sun, while the temperature slowly begins to drop. The winter in South Korea is very cold and dry. The winds from Siberia rarely bring snow. From January, a special climatic constellation creates a peculiar temperature scheme, in which three cold days alternate with four slightly milder days.

South Korea has four seasons

Climate data

month Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec
season winter spring summer autumn winter
Weather distinguishing features cold mild warm moderate cold
dry wet dry
snow Hwangsa
(smog / dust)
clear rain a lot of rain / typhoon clear snow
year spring summer autumn winter Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec
T mean ( ° C ) 11.5 10.4 22.7 13.4 −0.5 −2.1 −0.3 4.6 10.9 15.9 20.0 23.6 24.4 19.6 13.7 6.9 0.8
T-Min (° C) 6.5 4.8 18.5 8.2 −5.5 −7.0 −5.2 −0.8 5.0 10.2 15.3 19.9 20.4 14.9 8.0 1.8 −4.2
T-Max (° C) 16.5 16.1 26.9 18.7 4.4 2.8 4.6 9.9 16.8 21.7 24.8 27.4 28.5 24.4 19.5 12.1 5.8
T distance (° C) 10.0 11.3 8.4 10.4 9.8 9.8 9.7 10.6 11.7 11.5 9.5 7.5 8.1 9.5 11.4 10.4 9.9
Frost days 114.2 26.0 0.7 17.1 70.5 25.5 21.9 18.0 6.7 1.3 0.4 0.2 0.2 0.4 3.6 13.1 23.0
Rainydays 119.6 28.1 39.8 26.0 25.6 8.8 8.6 9.1 9.7 9.3 11.6 15.2 13.1 10.0 7.3 8.7 8.2
Precipitation (mm) 1404 287 723 283 111 37 44 66 110 111 187 289 247 159 67 57 30th
Air pressure ( hPa - 1000) 11.9 9.0 22.2 12.1 4.2 3.7 4.2 5.7 8.8 12.5 17.9 24.1 24.5 17.7 11.3 7.2 4.6
Cloud cover (%) 52.9 51.8 66.9 49.9 43.2 42.2 47.5 49.7 52.1 53.6 66.2 71.8 62.7 59.4 45.2 45.0 40.0

Mean values ​​for the years 1961–1990. The seasons denote a whole quarter of a year (spring: March to May, summer: June to August, autumn: September to November, winter: December to February)
Note: The source of this data is no longer available, but statistical climate data from the Korean government is available from 2001 to 2017

The average data of individual regions deviate significantly from those mentioned in some cases. In the northern and central regions, higher temperature differences over the year must be expected than in the southern coastal areas. It is usually a little warmer on the east coast than on the west coast, as the Taebaek Mountains prevent cold winds from falling in from Siberia.

Natural phenomena

Unlike neighboring Japan, South Korea is hardly affected by natural disasters. In South Korea, for example, there are only an average of 20 earthquakes per year. Of these, an average of 9.2 earthquakes per year are above 3.0 on the Richter scale (corresponds to the "perception threshold" of an earthquake). In the long-term trend, however, the number of quakes has increased again since 1992. In 2006 a total of 50 earthquakes occurred, in 2007 there were a total of 42 and in 2008 a total of 46. In Japan, however, around 1200 earthquakes with intensities greater than 3.0 are counted on the Richter scale. However, there are no active volcanoes in South Korea .

Typhoons can occur especially between the end of July and the beginning of September, but most of them lose their power before they reach South Korea. From March to May the air is sometimes filled with fine yellow desert sand (kor. 황사 hwangsa ), which blows over from China or Mongolia together with pollutants and covers the country like a bell of fog.


South Korea's rapid economic growth resulted in numerous environmental side effects. Emissions from industry and traffic create a high level of air pollution and cause acid rain . South Korea emits 9.5 tonnes of carbon dioxide per capita (2002 estimate). South Korea had the ninth highest CO 2 emissions in 2015 . Despite its relatively small population, South Korea is the world's second largest consumer of CFCs . Another major problem is the pollution of waters by sewage from residential areas and industry, as well as the rapidly growing mountains of rubbish, which is partly caused by the wasteful packaging of consumer goods. The South Korean Ministry of the Environment is trying to solve the problem of cross-border environmental pollution together with the responsible authorities in Japan and the People's Republic of China.

During the Asian crisis it became apparent that the South Korean economy is very dependent on energy imports. South Korea has therefore set itself the goal of promoting renewable energies in the 21st century. The government program “Low Carbon, Green Growth” has existed since 2008. It includes long-term strategies to promote green environmental technologies. In January 2009, in the wake of the global economic crisis, another green stimulus program worth 50 trillion won was launched. In addition, a five-year plan for green growth followed in July 2009, which includes 107 trillion won and is also intended to promote sustainable business. Overall, the programs aim to expand renewable energies, revitalize polluted rivers, an environmentally friendly transport infrastructure and energy-saving measures. It is also intended to create 1.8 million new jobs in the environmental sector.

Administrative structure

Japan Nordkorea de-facto Japan - von Südkorea beansprucht Gyeongsangbuk-do Seoul Daejeon Busan Ulsan Daegu Gwangju Incheon Jeju-do Gangwon-do Gyeonggi-do Chungcheongnam-do Chungcheongbuk-do Jeollanam-do Jeollabuk-do Gyeongsangnam-do
South Korea Political Map

At the highest sub-level, South Korea is politically divided into a special city :

Seoul ,

in a special autonomous city :

Sejong ,

in six independent large cities :

Busan , Daegu , Daejeon , Gwangju , Incheon and Ulsan

in eight provinces :

Chungcheongbuk-do , Chungcheongnam-do , Gangwon-do , Gyeonggi-do , Gyeongsangbuk-do , Gyeongsangnam-do , Jeollabuk-do, and Jeollanam-do

as well as in a special autonomous province :

Jeju-do .


Bird's eye view of Seoul

The largest city is the capital Seoul in the northwest with 10,103,233 inhabitants . Together with the surrounding cities, it forms the metropolitan region called Sudogwon , with around 25 million inhabitants the second largest metropolitan area in the world after Tokyo . In the extreme southeast of the peninsula is South Korea's second largest city Busan (3,519,401 inhabitants); it has one of the most heavily handled ports in the world. This is followed by the port city of Incheon (2,902,608 inhabitants) , located just outside Seoul on the west coast, and Daegu, located in the southeastern interior of the country, with 2,493,264 inhabitants. The fifth largest city is the centrally located Daejeon with 1,531,809 inhabitants, the sixth largest Gwangju with 1,475,884 inhabitants in the southwest. Unlike the cities mentioned above, Suwon (1,174,228 inhabitants), Goyang (1,006,154 inhabitants) and Seongnam (974,608 inhabitants) are not politically equivalent to a province, but belong to the province of Gyeonggi-do . Like Incheon, they are so close to Seoul that they have now been connected to its subway network. The eighth largest city is Ulsan , located on the southern part of the east coast, with a population of 1,166,377.


Population pyramid of South Korea 2016
Population development
year population year population
1950 19,211,000 1990 42,923,000
1955 21,531,000 1995 45,299,000
1960 25,341,000 2000 47,386,000
1965 28,907,000 2005 48,708,000
1970 33,209,000 2010 49,553,000
1975 35,387,000 2019 51,709,000
1980 38,050,000 2030 52,702,000
1985 40,809,000 2050 50,457,000

South Korea had around 51.501 million inhabitants (as of October 2015) and at the time had a population density of around 513 people per square kilometer. Around 92% of all South Koreans live in cities. The population growth was in 2015 at an annual 0.25%. Forecasts predict that the population will shrink from 2028 onwards. On September 30, 2010, the 50 millionth inhabitant was registered with the authorities. In the official notification of the "Ministry of Public Administration & Security" (MOPAS), 25,034,736 of these were male and 24,942,224 were female (which in total does not exactly correspond to the total number also stated in the official notification). It is believed that there are around 466,000 unregistered residents.

South Koreans have a very high life expectancy, a total of 82.4 years in 2015, 79.3 years for men and 85.8 years for women. South Korea also has one of the highest cancer survival rates in the world. Life expectancy in South Korea has increased enormously in the last few decades, in 1955 it was 47 years according to UN figures. This contributes to the rapid aging of the population. In 2000, only 7.2% of the population were 65 years of age or older; in 2015, the proportion of this age group had already reached 13.1%. The median age in 2015 was 40.8 years. The fertility rate is one of the lowest in the world, standing at 0.84 children per woman in 2020. This means that the population has shrunk for the first time since the existence of the republic.

The total population of the Korean Peninsula, i.e. that of today's states of North and South Korea combined, is largely ethnically homogeneous. Since the predecessor state of Korea was almost always a political unit from the unification by the Silla Empire in 668 until the division after the Second World War in 1945, a largely uniform culture with only minor regional differences developed. After the end of the Korean War , an exodus from the rural areas to the cities began in South Korea , especially to Seoul. Since 1990, however, the suburbs of Seoul have increasingly been the target of settlements, where entire satellite cities have been built with large-scale building programs .

During the post-war era, the Chinese were discriminated against because the government wanted a population that was as ethnically homogeneous as possible. In the 1960s there were legal regulations regulating the size of property owned by foreigners, especially the Chinese. Obtaining citizenship in South Korea was complicated. The Chinese in South Korea were considered citizens of the Republic of China , which also funded the Chinese-language schools in South Korea. Since South Korea, along with Japan, weathered the Asian crisis best in 1997, a large number of workers from other parts of Asia ( Thailand , the Philippines and India ) and even from Africa immigrated to South Korea to find work in the large factories. Many of them are illegally in the country. Due to the relations with the USA since the post-war period, many Americans have now also settled, in the Itaewon district of Seoul they shape the picture. This is also where the “UN village” is located, along with many embassies and foreign companies. From 2004 to 2014, the number of registered foreigners in South Korea rose from around 469,000 to 1.1 million.

The number of People's Republic of Chinese residing in South Korea was 0.61 million at the end of November 2010, including 0.4 million Koreans with Chinese citizenship of the People's Republic. These Chinese are followed by Americans (128 thousand), Vietnamese (120 thousand), Filipinos (47 thousand), Japanese (41 thousand), Thais (40 thousand), Mongols (30 thousand) and Indonesians ( 29 thousand) is the largest foreign population group in South Korea. In 2017, 2.3% of the population was born abroad. The proportion of foreigners is still at a low level, but is rising steadily.

On the other hand, many ethnic Koreans live overseas, particularly in the United States and the People's Republic of China , which each have around two million Koreans. About 660,000 live in Japan , about half a million live in Russia and the other former Soviet republics .

Statistics show that the suicide rate in South Korea is the highest of all OECD countries. The rate in 2015 was 25.8 suicides per 100,000 people. Suicide is considered a major problem in South Korea and is attracting a lot of attention due to some celebrity suicides. It is the leading cause of death among people between the ages of 10 and 39.


Religious freedom is guaranteed by the constitution. Accordingly, there is no official state religion. The religious landscape in South Korea is very diverse. Around 2015, 56% of South Koreans were known to have no religion , 28% were Christians (20% of the population were Protestant), 16% were Buddhists and members of the Korean shaman religion .

Shamanism is the original belief system of Korea. In many respects it is similar to the shamanic customs of neighboring countries and is based on the belief in spirits, which must be appeased and from whom protection must be sought.

Buryeongsa Buddhist Temple

The Buddhism reached North and South Korea from India via China and was in the year 372 , Goguryeo , 384 in Baekje and 528 n. Chr. In Silla state religion . It had its heyday when Silla conquered almost the entire Korean Peninsula. During the Joseon Dynasty , it was considered the root of corruption and was suppressed. The monks mostly withdrew to the mountains, and Buddhism lost its influence, but never completely disappeared. Buddhist schools of Korean origin are now partly in the USA and in Europe.

From around AD 600, Confucianism became increasingly important in Korea . Less a real religion than a social order, this philosophy still has a significant impact on South Korean society. But since it has only been officially recognized as a religion since 1995, hardly any South Koreans cite it as their religion today. This is probably the main reason for the comparatively high level of non- religion in South Korea.

The Christianity in Korea spread from the year 1784 by Korean intellectuals who had come for educational travel in China with religion in touch. At that time, Chinese cities formed contact points for Western cultures and European missionaries founded schools and churches. The slowly and mostly secretly multiplying Christians in Korea were suppressed by the Confucianist monarchy until religious freedom was granted in 1882. Since the 1960s, Christianity experienced an unprecedented rise with the economic boom and the associated expansion of education. After the Philippines and East Timor, South Korea is the East Asian country with the highest percentage of professing Christians. Of the Christian denominations, the Protestant churches, in particular the Presbyterian churches among other Reformed churches , make up the largest proportion by far. This explains, in addition to the strong Anglo-American theological influence, the very high effectiveness and fame of German-speaking theologians such. B. Karl Barth , Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Emil Brunner in the country.

The influence of Christian fundamentalism and the link between the Church and politics are increasingly shaping the Reformed Church and the society of South Korea. For example , a working group on creationism research was set up in 2012 within the state-owned Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology , one of the country's leading research institutes . Plans to delete passages on the theory of evolution from textbooks that contradict creationism were rejected after public protests by scientists.

Several new religious movements also emerged in Korea, including the Daesoon Jinrihoe and Victory Altar . Also in Korea have originated Christian syncretic movements such Jundokwan (olive tree) or as after its founder Sun Myung Moon as "Moon Movement" called Unification Church .

Language and writing

The Korean language is official in South Korea official and written language . There are no recognized minority languages. The Korean language is considered by some linguists to the Altai languages counted, considered by others a language isolate. It may be more closely related to Japanese ryūkyū . About 78 million people speak Korean worldwide. The differences between the regional dialects are marginal, with the exception of the dialect spoken in Jejudo. For many terms, the language has both a purely Korean and a so-called Sinocorean word borrowed from Chinese. In addition, many English words are being adopted into the Korean language today.

English is taught as the first foreign language from elementary school. A second foreign language is added in the upper levels. The traditional languages ​​since the post-war period have been German , French or Japanese , and in rare cases Spanish . The importance of European languages ​​has declined since the 1990s. Overall, interest in a second foreign language has decreased, while the emphasis on teaching English has increased. A new phenomenon is the lately increasing demand for Chinese , which is due to the increasing role of the People's Republic of China in Korea.

The word Hangeul in Hangeul

The Korean font Hangeul is an alphabet font with 24  letters , 10 vowels and 14 consonants. These letters are combined syllable by syllable into blocks, which can give the impression that it is as complex as the Chinese script . In fact, the script is structured very logically. The Chinese script, called Hanja in North and South Korea , was the official script on the Korean Peninsula until the end of the Japanese colonial era in 1945, despite the introduction of the Hangeul script by Great King Sejong in the 14th century. In today's everyday usage, Chinese characters have a significantly lower meaning than in Japan. In South Korean publications, words in Hangeul are sometimes supplemented by their Hanja equivalents in brackets, in order to clarify the meaning , especially with homonyms . Publications that only use Hanja are the exception. In South Korean schools today, students learn around 1,800 Hanja symbols, and at universities there are additional symbols from the chosen subject areas. In general, however, the use of Hanja is declining. This is also related to the general movement to strengthen the role of the Korean language in both written and oral practice. There are also efforts on the part of linguistics and the media to cultivate the Korean language.

Refugees from North Korea

There is a small flow of refugees from North Korea to South Korea via third countries. Escape from the dictatorial regime of North Korea is generally associated with great difficulties. In order to get the refugees used to the way of life in a democracy, there is the Hanawon re-education camp , in which as of January 2014 around 160 North Koreans are waiting for a final “naturalization”. By the end of 2015, around 29,000 people had moved from North Korea to South Korea.


The history before World War II can be found under History of Korea .

Independence from japan

After the Second World War came to an end in 1945 with the surrender of Japan , the Chosen Province , which corresponded to the area of Korea, which had been incorporated and colonized by the Japanese Empire since 1910 , was divided by the victorious powers into two zones of occupation along the 38th parallel . This corresponded to the Yalta Conference of the Allies in February 1945. (The Allies had previously decided at the Cairo Conference in 1943 that Korea should receive its state independence in due course.) The southern part of Chōsen was occupied by US troops, the northern part Part came under the control of the Red Army . The Allies oversaw the disarmament and withdrawal of Japanese soldiers from Chosen.

Originally, the administration of the country was to be taken over by the USA and the Soviet Union until an all-Korean government was formed . However, this was never achieved. Instead, the Soviet Union established zones of occupation with military governments in the north and the United States in the south . When the United Nations General Assembly decided in 1947, at the request of the USA, to hold elections in both parts of the country, the Soviet Union refused. Therefore, on May 10, 1948, the election took place only in the south. Active and passive women's suffrage was introduced on July 17, 1948.

On August 15, 1948, the Republic of Korea was founded . The US officially handed power to the elected government, but left its troops in the country. The north responded to the unilateral establishment of a state in the south with the establishment of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea on September 9, 1948 in Pyongyang . Both states saw themselves as the only legitimate government in the entire Korean Peninsula and announced that they would fight for it.

Already under the administration of the US military government (USAMGIK), genocide-like massacres began in April 1948 by anti-communist police units and South Korean troops of alleged supporters of social rebels, such as the Jeju massacre . At least one in ten residents was killed on Jeju Island . Other massacres in South Korea occurred during the Korean War. The massacres were accompanied by officers of the US armed forces and some were photographed.

By mid-1949, the Soviet Union's troops had withdrawn from North Korea in accordance with the treaty. With the help of the Soviet Union and China, North Korea was able to build up its industry faster than South Korea. This was due to the fact that the Japanese had settled heavy industry during their colonial days, especially in the north, which is more resource-rich. In the agriculturally more fertile south, however, they promoted and expanded agriculture. Because of this, and thanks to the help of the Soviet Union, North Korea was able to recover more quickly and build a powerful army.

Korean War

A Sherman tank fires at an enemy bunker (May 1952)

On June 25, 1950, the North Korean People's Army crossed the border at the 38th parallel and thus initiated the Korean War. The American President Harry S. Truman had already sent some troops to South Korea again, which were by no means strong enough to compensate for the material superiority of the North Korean troops over the South Korean army. The capital Seoul fell after just three days, and about a month later the North Koreans controlled the entire Korean peninsula except for a few islands and a narrow strip around Busan in the southeast. Only here did the South Koreans succeed in stabilizing the situation.

With the landing at Incheon in mid-September 1950, the UN troops succeeded in ending the advance of the North Koreans. On September 30th, South Korean troops crossed the 38th parallel to reunite the Korean Peninsula under their flag. In November the first sections of the Yalu river border with China were reached. The Chinese did not want to tolerate a unified Korea under US influence and intervened in North Korea with a "volunteer army" of initially 300,000 soldiers. The UN troops were eventually pushed back south of the 38th parallel, where the front froze.

The armistice was signed on July 27, 1953, signed by the UN, North Korea and China. Rhee Syng-man , the President of South Korea, refused to sign the contract. The establishment of a demilitarized zone was ordered roughly along the 38th parallel. The demilitarized zone is still the border between the two Korean states today. A peace treaty has not yet been signed, although the intention to do so has been expressed several times.

A Korean girl carries her brother past a broken down tank (June 1951)

The consequences of the Korean War were dramatic. Estimates of the number of Koreans killed vary between one and three million; far more had been expelled. Most of the Korean infrastructure was in ruins. The psychological consequences were at least as bad. The fear of a new invasion still affects the politics of both states to this day, albeit less and less.

1950s after the Korean War

After the Korean War, South Korea's economy barely improved despite Western development aid. As a country without major mineral resources, South Korea was dependent on imports, and the few industrial plants and the entire infrastructure were destroyed. The fact that things were slow at first was mainly blamed on President Rhee Syng-man's mismanagement . He secured his re-election in the following elections by arresting members of the opposition and making several constitutional amendments. The economic development remained disappointing afterwards, the corruption was blatant, and the style of government in Rhee became more and more autocratic . In 1960 there were student demonstrations against him across the country for months; they found more and more popular support. Rhee finally resigned on April 26, 1960.

Military governments

When even a parliamentary-based government could not get the country's problems under control, the military under the leadership of General Park Chung-hee seized power on May 16, 1961 . In the period that followed, elections were allowed, but these had practically no consequences. The South Koreans were denied essential democratic rights such as freedom of expression and freedom of the press . A military dictatorship developed under Park Chung-hee, and members of the opposition (mostly communists) were tortured and murdered.

Meanwhile, South Korea made significant economic strides. A close connection between politics and economy gave rise to large industries. During this time, South Korea transformed into a modern, export-oriented industrial state. This also improved the standard of living of the South Koreans. The education system was improved and made accessible to broader sections of the population, the so-called Saemaeul Undong ( New Village Campaign ) also improved the situation of the rural population. Park is therefore now widely regarded as the architect of the economic upswing.

North Korean agents tried to assassinate Park in 1968 and 1975; his wife fell victim to the second attack. Its end came unexpectedly on October 26, 1979, when Park was shot dead by Kim Chae-kyu's own intelligence chief .

The 1980s

The Prime Minister Choi Kyu-ha first became interim president and emerged victorious from the election by an electoral body on December 6, 1979. But on December 12th, the military, led by General Chun Doo-hwan, launched another coup against the government. The year 1980 was dominated by great uncertainty. People from all walks of life called for real democracy, and demonstrations swept across the country. Due to the troubled situation, the military feared an invasion of the north and was therefore particularly tough. In one of the protest strongholds, in Gwangju , an example was made in May 1980 and the uprising was brutally suppressed. According to an investigation in the late 1990s into what is now known as the Gwangju Uprising or, in South Korea , the May 18 Gwangju Democracy Movement , 207 civilians died and several thousand were injured. Other sources show up to 2300 fatalities (see main article).

Gradually, Chun managed to calm the situation down. Economic development picked up again and the quality of life of South Koreans increased significantly. Nonetheless, the demands for democracy grew louder and louder. There were often demonstrations and strikes, some of which were suppressed. Chun enabled the first peaceful change of power since the founding of South Korea by stepping down at the end of his tenure in 1988.

A bomb attack in northern Rangoon in Myanmar on October 9, 1983 killed 19 people, including four cabinet members of the Chun government: Kim Jae-ik, Suh Sook-joon, Hahn Pyong-choon and Foreign Minister Lee Bum-suk. Chun Doo-hwan escaped the attack because he was late at the scene of the attack. After an investigation, North Korea was officially accused of the attack.


Chun's potential successor, ex-general Roh Tae-woo , made a surprise offer in the summer of 1987 to amend the constitution in favor of genuine democratic reforms. In November 1987, for the first time since 1961, the president was directly elected by the population and his term of office was shortened to five years. The two opposition leaders Kim Young-sam and Kim Dae-jung could not agree on a common candidate and ran against each other. Because the opposition was thus divided, 37% of the vote was enough for Roh to win the election.

During the Rohs tenure, democracy made significant progress in South Korea and many reforms were adopted. In 1988, South Korea hosted the Summer Olympics . South Korea established diplomatic relations with former Eastern Bloc countries . Together with North Korea, the country joined the United Nations on September 17, 1991 . After the withdrawal of around one hundred American tactical nuclear weapons in September 1991, North and South Korea signed a non-aggression pact on December 13, 1991, 38 years after the ceasefire ended the Korean War .

Because his party formed a conservative alliance with the Roh Tae-woos party, Kim Young-sam was able to prevail against Kim Dae-jung in the 1992 election. One focus of his policy was the fight against corruption and the investigation of government misconduct. Former presidents Chun Doo-hwan and Roh Tae-woo were sentenced to death for the coup d'état and the Gwangju massacre in 1980, and Chun was sentenced to death. Both were later pardoned.

In November 1997, the Asian crisis hit South Korea. After the country had shone economically for a long time with double-digit growth rates, the gross domestic product shrank by 6.7% in 1998 and the national currency, the won , fell sharply in value. With the help of a loan from the IMF , the crisis was overcome, and in 1999 GDP grew again by more than 10%.

In 2002, South Korea hosted the 17th soccer world championship together with Japan . It was the first time that two countries had jointly hosted this sporting event, all the more significant given the strained relationship with Japan. The success of the South Korean national soccer team was one of the big surprises of this tournament, finishing fourth.

Approach to North Korea

In the election on December 18, 1997, Kim Dae-jung prevailed. The main point of his policy was the reconciliation with North Korea, the so-called sunshine policy . Two railway lines interrupted during the Korean War were restored; the first test drive did not take place until May 17, 2007. In addition, a joint industrial area was established in Kaesŏng . The climax of this policy was a meeting of Kim Dae-jung with the North Korean leader Kim Jong-il in Pyongyang in June 2000. For this policy Kim Dae-jung was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize that same year .

In the presidential election on December 19, 2002 , Roh Moo-hyun, who belongs to the same party as Kim Dae-jung, emerged victorious. He tried to continue Kim Dae-jung's policy towards North Korea.

Shortly before the end of his term in office, Roh Moo-hyun also made a state visit to North Korea from October 2 to 4, 2007. Together with the North Korean head of state Kim Jong-il, he signed a declaration of intent to start negotiations on a peace treaty. This is intended to replace the armistice agreement to end the Korean War of 1953. In addition, there should be more frequent summits.

However, under South Korean President Lee Myung-bak, who was in office until 2012 , the relationship between the two countries cooled noticeably. Lee had already announced during the election campaign that he would pursue a tougher foreign policy line against Pyongyang. North Korea finally announced that it would close its borders to the south on December 1, 2008. This measure mainly affects trips by South Koreans to the tourist areas of North Korea close to the border. It was not until August 2009 that high-ranking representatives of the two governments held talks again for the first time in almost two years. North Korean intelligence chief Kim Yang Kon discussed bilateral issues with South Korean reunification minister Hyun In Taek in Seoul.

In the spring of 2013, relations between the two countries reached a new low point due to the 2013 North Korea crisis .

After Park Geun-hye's impeachment , she was succeeded by Moon Jae-in in May 2017 . Right from the start, he showed a willingness to enter into dialogue with North Korean ruler Kim Jong-un , who announced in December 2017, after several missile tests and a nuclear bomb test, that North Korea had completed its development to become a nuclear power. After the conflict had escalated dangerously, on January 1, 2018, Kim Jong-un unexpectedly accepted South Korea's offer to let his country take part in the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang in February 2018 . Representatives of both states agreed on a three-point final declaration during talks in the demilitarized zone in Panmunjom a week and a half later. North Korea will then be allowed to send a delegation to the Winter Olympics, military talks between the two states are to be resumed to ease the tension and high-level meetings are to be continued in order to revive the exchange in various areas. The media speculated that Kim Jong-un hoped for a withdrawal of UN sanctions or wanted to weaken relations between South Korea and the US under President Donald Trump .

COVID-19 pandemic

COVID-19 Pandemic - KR (South Korea) - Infected (800px) .svg
Confirmed infected people in South Korea according to WHO data. Cumulative above, daily values ​​below
COVID-19 Pandemic - KR (South Korea) - Dead (800px) .svg
Confirmed deaths in South Korea, according to WHO data. Cumulative above, daily values ​​below

Korea, a neighboring country, was hard hit by the COVID-19 pandemic , which began in Wuhan and quickly spread to other parts of the People's Republic of China . The first case became known on January 20, 2020, and there were 31 cases on February 18, but then it turned out that a 61-year-old woman who was described as a super spreader had infected members of the Christian Shincheonji community in Daegu , and thereby also other people. As a result, the number of confirmed infected people rose sharply, especially in Daegu. On February 23, 2020, the highest level of alert in the health care system was declared. On February 24, there were more than 833 cases in Korea for the first time than in any country except China; on February 29, the proportion of people reported as infected in the total population exceeded the value for China.

The high number of cases is partly explained by the fact that intensive testing was carried out. As many contacts as possible to infected people were tested, with the number of tests pending or in progress significantly exceeding the number of confirmed cases. On March 3, there were still 35,555 people to be tested, that is the record. After that, this value decreased because the number of new cases also decreased. The procedure in Korea is therefore considered exemplary.

As a response to the epidemic numerous schools and universities were closed. The Ministry of Education initially instructed schools and kindergartens to postpone the originally planned start of the new school year from March 2, 2020 to March 23. The school start was later delayed by a further two weeks to April 6, 2020, and it was finally decided to gradually start schools from April 9 and initially allow classes to take place online .

When the proportion of “imported” infections among new infections rose, not least due to developments in Europe, the quarantine regulations for travelers were tightened on April 1st. For the first time since February 18, South Korea declared no new domestic infections for April 29.


Political system

The Gukhoe Building

On July 17, 1948, the first constitution of South Korea was passed. In the course of the political upheavals it was revised a total of nine times, the last time on October 29, 1987. This revision was an important step towards the democratization of the country. Among other things, the power of the president was limited and the powers of the legislature expanded. Human rights were also better protected afterwards than before.

The current constitution comprises a preamble, 130 articles and six additional provisions. It is divided into ten chapters: “General Provisions”, “Citizens' Rights and Duties”, “National Assembly”, “Executive”, “Legal System”, “Constitutional Court”, “Elections”, “Local Government”, “Economy” and “Constitutional Amendments” ". It ensures the sovereignty of the people, decrees the separation of powers, declares goals such as peaceful and democratic reunification with North Korea , calls for the pursuit of peace and cooperation on an international level, as well as the obligation of the state to care for the common good. A constitutional amendment requires a two-thirds majority in the National Assembly and must also be confirmed by a simple majority in a referendum.

The head of state of the Republic of Korea is the directly elected president . The president is elected for a five-year term and cannot be re-elected. He is the highest representative of the republic and represents it internally and externally. He receives foreign diplomats, awards medals and can issue pardons. He is also at the head of the administration and in this function puts into force laws passed by the National Assembly. He is in command of the army and can declare war .

The Prime Minister is appointed by the President. He runs the government . The cabinet consists of a minimum of 15 and a maximum of 30 members and is also composed by the President. Both prime ministers and cabinet members must be approved by parliament. The South Korean parliament has only one chamber and is called the Gukhoe (National Assembly). The parliamentarians are elected for four years. The parliament consists of 299 members, of which 243 are directly elected. The remaining 56 seats will be distributed among those parties that have received at least 3% of the vote. This is to ensure that Members of Parliament represent national rather than regional interests. The last parliamentary election took place on April 13, 2016. The ruling Saenuri party only got 122 seats out of 300, while the opposition Minju party got 123 seats.

The third important organ in the South Korean system is the Constitutional Court. It monitors the work of the government and takes decisions in the event of motions of censure and the like. The court consists of nine chief judges. The President personally appoints three judges to the Supreme Court. Parliament appoints another three judges, but must have them confirmed by the President. The final three judges are appointed by the presiding judge of the Supreme Court.

Political indices

Political indices issued by non-governmental organizations
Name of the index Index value Worldwide rank Interpretation aid year
Fragile States Index 32 of 120 159 of 178 Stability of the country: very stable
0 = very sustainable / 120 = very alarming
Democracy index 8.01 out of 10 23 of 167 Full democracy
0 = authoritarian regime / 10 = full democracy
Freedom in the World Index 83 of 100 - Freedom status: free
0 = not free / 100 = free
Freedom of the press ranking 23.43 out of 100 42 of 180 Satisfactory situation for freedom of the press
0 = good situation / 100 = very serious situation
Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) 61 of 100 33 of 180 0 = very corrupt / 100 = very clean 2020

Human rights situation

Politics and life in South Korea have in the past to a large extent been determined by the fear of a new invasion by North Korea. Fear has decreased significantly in recent years. Nevertheless, the National Security Act ( 국가 보안법 ,國家 保安 法, gukga boanbeop ) prohibits South Koreans from making contact with North Korea. North Korea may also not be praised or advertised for in public. The law was passed on December 1, 1948, amended in 1963 and 1980 and is still in force today. It has been abused in front of democratization as a "rubber paragraph" to suppress political opposition, because it is textually very vague, and already looks for anti-government statements, possession and transfer of anti-government material, membership in anti-government organizations and non-display of such offenses penalties up to the death penalty before . The Constitutional Court reviewed the law in August 2004 and declared it to be constitutional, while the National Human Rights Commission recommended its abolition in September of the same year. President Roh also spoke out in favor of its abolition. The German citizen and Korean exile Song Du-yul was sentenced to seven years imprisonment under the law in March 2004, which was converted into a suspended sentence at the next instance. According to Amnesty International , at least nine people were detained under this law in December 2004, six of them members of the banned pro-North Korean student organization Hanchongnyeon .

As in most East Asian countries, there is also the death penalty in South Korea. One person was sentenced to death in 2006 and, according to Amnesty International , 63 death row prisoners were held in South Korean prisons in June 2006. An unofficial moratorium on executions has been observed since 1998, which is why no more death sentences are carried out. There are also increasing efforts to abolish the death penalty. Although the majority of the population opposed the abolition, 175 of the 299 members of parliament signed a bill against the death penalty in December 2004. At the beginning of 2006, the Ministry of Justice announced that it would carry out a study on the consequences of the abolition. The Supreme Court ruled that the death penalty was constitutional, but its abolition is a matter for the legislature .

Every year several hundred disobey the draft order and are then sentenced to at least 18 months in prison. From 1950 to 2013, therefore, 17,840 Jehovah's Witnesses were in prison for at least 18 months. The Constitutional Court had only rejected the proposals for an alternative alternative service in 2011 and declared general conscription to be constitutional. Although there was apparently a trend towards shorter prison sentences, conscientious objectors continued to receive an entry in the criminal record, which reduced their chances on the labor market. Six district judges, who had concerns about their decisions, referred several cases involving conscientious objectors to the Constitutional Court.

Foreign and Security Policy

States with diplomatic missions from South Korea

The guiding principle of South Korean foreign policy is the strategic partnership with the United States because of the common perception of North Korea as a threat. The United States sees South Korea as one of its most important allies and gives it large amounts of so-called “military development aid”. South Korea has been on the list of major non-NATO ally since 1989 , making it one of the USA's closest diplomatic , military and strategic partners outside of NATO . The US has also deployed large contingents of troops in South Korea. Since the establishment of diplomatic relations with the People's Republic of China in 1992, economic relations in particular have developed dynamically. China is by far South Korea's largest trading partner, the most important sales market and an important foreign production location.

In addition, South Korea's foreign policy is characterized by a very ambivalent relationship with Japan. The memories of the past (Japanese colonial times 1910–1945, Korean War 1950–1953), which are perceived as stressful, make relations with Japan more difficult.

Relations with North Korea

Dorasan : The access to the tracks to Pyongyang is blocked
A guarded fence a few kilometers from the demilitarized zone
This flag is used in joint performances by North and South Korea, such as the 2004 Summer Olympics

Relations with North Korea , after a period of relaxation around the year 2000, have clearly deteriorated again in recent years.

After the end of the Korean War , the fear of another invasion of the north was very great. Even in the 1980s, test alarms were regularly drilled, which included all of public life. This was understandable against the background of the terrorist activities in the north. In October 1983, North Korean agents assassinated a South Korean government delegation in what was then the Burmese capital, Rangoon . President Chun Doo-hwan survived, the foreign minister and 16 other South Koreans were killed. In 1988, the North Korean secret service planted a bomb on a South Korean passenger plane , which then exploded over the Indian Ocean . 115 people were killed. The fact that another war was not unlikely is also shown by tunnels several kilometers in length that were driven from North Korea under the demilitarized zone . These tunnels, which were still covered on the South Korean side, should make it possible in the event of war to smuggle infantry quickly and unnoticed into the South Korean hinterland. To date, a total of four tunnels have been discovered, the existence of more is suspected. With the end of the military dictatorship in 1988 and North Korea's economic decline, the fear of a new invasion subsided more and more. Since only one ceasefire agreement was signed after the Korean War, the two states are still officially at war with one another today.

Kim Dae-jung managed to set up some joint projects with the north. Today there is the Kaesŏng industrial area on the North Korean side, in which South Korean companies produce with North Korean workers. The Gyeongui Line , a railway line from Seoul via Pyongyang to Sinŭiju on the Chinese border, has also been restored, although for the time being it only runs from Seoul to the inner-Korean border. In 2000 there was a historic meeting between then South Korean President Kim Dae-jung and North Korean ruler Kim Jong-il in Pyongyang. But Kim Dae-jung had to admit in 2002 that she had paid around 100 million dollars to the North Korean government in the run-up to the meeting.

The reunification with the North remains politically a hot topic; the experience of German reunification has raised fears that South Korea would not be able to bear the costs, even if South Korea's nominal gross domestic product is now the thirteenth largest in the world. In North Korea there are 22,912,177 inhabitants on an area of ​​122,762 km², in the south there are 48,640,671 inhabitants on an area of ​​99,392 km². Because of the comparatively much greater weight of the other state, in terms of both area and population, transfer payments would probably have to be made even higher than after the reunification of Germany.

At the beginning of his term in office, President Roh Moo-hyun said he could live with a nuclear-armed North Korea rather than a collapsing North. He had to retract this statement as a political incorrectness, but it is likely to have reflected the attitude of many South Koreans. There are also doubts as to whether the two states have not been separated from each other for too long. While mutual visits, letters and phone calls still sometimes took place in divided Germany, the two Korean states are practically completely isolated from each other. Apart from a few family get-togethers in recent years, there were no contacts; most families do not even know whether their relatives living in the other state are still alive.

Relations between the two countries, however, cooled down again after the election of former President Lee Myung-baks . After the sinking of the warship Cheonan in March 2010, which North Korea was blamed for sinking, South Korea stopped trading with its northern neighbor and announced that it would appeal to the UN Security Council . North Korea then broke off all relations, put its troops in combat readiness and announced a security agreement that was supposed to prevent armed conflict. In addition, all South Koreans should be expelled from the Kaesŏng industrial region .

The tension on the Korean Peninsula reached a preliminary climax on November 23, 2010 when the island of Yeonpyeong near the unofficial sea border was fired by North Korean units. A North Korean nuclear weapon test in February 2013, which resulted in UN sanctions being imposed on the country, caused renewed tension. In response to the sanctions, North Korea canceled the non-aggression pact on March 8, 2013, bringing the likelihood of war back to the fore.

Relations with Japan

Even after more than 70 years after independence from Japan , relations are still strained. Anti-Japanese resentment is widespread, some South Koreans at least reject everything that is obviously Japanese . The main reason for this is the painful memories of the colonial era, which in Japan are also viewed as not having been properly processed. Official history books in Japan still portray the incorporation of Korea into the Japanese Empire in a very one-sided way. The improvements in infrastructure and industry are emphasized, while the oppression of the Koreans and their culture is concealed. Many Japanese are therefore hardly aware of what happened in the past and do not understand the reasons for the hostility from South Korea.

Protests in South Korea have been particularly loud in the past when Japan reiterated its claims to the Liancourt Rocks , which South Korea has also claimed , or when high officials of the Japanese government repeatedly visited the Yasukuni Shrine , where convicted war criminals and Japanese soldiers of Korean descent are also honored .

Many former so-called comfort women (a euphemistic term for girls and women who had to serve as forced prostitutes in the Imperial Japanese Army in war brothels until 1945 ) spoke out in public from the late 1980s and began every Wednesday in front of the Japanese embassy in 1992 To protest Seoul by saying: "It is the Japanese government that must be ashamed, not us!" They demanded an apology from Japan and also compensation . Nine large class actions against the Japanese government failed. According to statements by the then newly elected Prime Minister Shinzō Abe on March 1, 2007: "There is no evidence that coercion was exerted on women, as it was initially called." There was an apology from the Japanese Parliament on March 27, 2007 after controversy the up to 200,000 victims, of whom only a third is said to have survived. Since Japan does not recognize the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (North Korea), it is not known whether this number is - all - comfort women of the former colony of Chosen or just from South Korea. On December 28, 2015, Japan and South Korea signed an agreement with which the two states want to settle the dispute over the comfort women. The agreement provides for a renewed public apology from Japan and the payment of one billion yen (7.56 million euros) to a fund under South Korean administration, which is to be used for victims of forced prostitution. The subject was and is discussed in Japan. At the time of the agreement, 46 of the comfort women of that time were still living in South Korea.

On August 10, 2010, the Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan apologized to South Korea for the colonial rule of his country from 1910 to 1945. This is also linked to the hope of an improvement in South Korean-Japanese relations.

Relations with Germany

Park Geun-hye and Chancellor Angela Merkel (2014)

The first bilateral relations on a formal level were established with the signing of the German-Korean trade, shipping and friendship treaty on November 26, 1883. With the Japan-Korea Protectorate Treaty of 1905 , Korea lost its sovereignty and foreign missions and representation were transferred to Japan; the diplomatic business of the German ministerial residency, which had meanwhile been set up in Korea, was transferred to the German legation in Tokyo, which ended diplomatic relations between Germany and Korea. After the end of the Second World War, Germany was legally restricted by the occupation statute of the victorious powers. With the Paris Treaties and their ratification on May 5, 1955, Germany regained its state sovereignty. This paved the way for the establishment of diplomatic relations with South Korea, which was founded in 1948, and the exchange between the two states was also initiated at the state level.

In 1961, German development aid for South Korea totaled 75 million DM . A large part of the development aid for the expansion of the telephone system was to be financed with around 35 million DM. Around 20.72 million DM were to be invested in the expansion of the state coal mines. In addition to monetary support, the Federal Republic of Germany provided for a further contribution to development aid in South Korea. An agreement on a " Temporary Employment Program for [South] Korean Miners " came into effect through an exchange of notes between the Federal Republic and the Republic of Korea on December 16, 1963. The federal government was gradually convinced of the idea of ​​recruiting South Korean miners to Germany under the guise of "technical development aid". The recruitment policy was actually aimed specifically at southern European and thus culturally close “ guest workers ” from the Mediterranean region. On December 21, 247 South Korean men in western suits boarded a plane at Gimpo Airport that was taking them to Germany. It was the first South Korean delegation to work in German mines. The number of guest workers of South Korean nationality who emigrated from 1962 to 1977 was around 8,000; another 10,000 women emigrated to Germany in the same period to work in hospitals.


The South Korean submarine Chang Bogo ( submarine class 209 ), 2005

The armed forces of the Republic of Korea have almost 685,000 men and women in four branches of the armed forces and two paramilitary organizations, the strategic core of which is the army. This makes the country the fifth to seventh largest military in the world . The other states of East Asia also have "strong" armed forces, measured by the number of soldiers ( People's Republic of China , North Korea ), their ratio to the population (North Korea, Republic of China ) or the size of the defense budget ( Japan , North Korea, People's Republic of China). In South Korea one sees oneself most threatened by North Korea. South Korea spent almost 2.6 percent of its economic output or 39.2 billion dollars on its armed forces in 2017, making it 10th worldwide.

The high command (OPCON, operational control ) over the South Korean armed forces was handed over to the USA when the Korean War broke out in 1950. In 1978 the command was transferred to the Combined Forces Command (CFC). Since 1994, authority in peaceful times has been with the Republic of Korea Joint Chiefs of Staff (ROK JCS) . In the event of war (wartime OPCON) , this lies with the USA. According to an original resolution from February 2007, it should also fall to South Korea from April 17, 2012 in the event of war. However, the time of handover was an ongoing subject of discussion. During the G20 summit in Toronto in June 2010, then South Korean President Lee Myung-bak and then US President Barack Obama agreed to postpone the handover to December 1, 2015. The main reason cited was the recently increasing threat from North Korea, mainly underpinned by the atomic bomb test in May 2009 and the alleged attack on the warship Cheonan in March 2010. At a meeting in October 2014 at the Pentagon, the handover was postponed again. A handover is expected around 2020.

In South Korea there is compulsory military service for men with a service period of 24 to 28 months.

The South Korean armed forces cooperate closely with the American armed forces . In February 2010, around 28,500 US troops were stationed in Korea, with whom a joint military exercise is held every year.

For several years now, the armed forces have also been involved in missions abroad. The first overseas mission began in 2004, when around 3,600 soldiers provided humanitarian and reconstruction aid in Iraq for around four years. Between 2002 and 2007 around 200 soldiers (medical services and engineers) were stationed in Afghanistan as part of Operation Enduring Freedom . In July 2009, at the request of the United Nations, 350 peacekeeping soldiers were sent to southern Lebanon. In February 2010, a 240-man peacekeeping unit was relocated to the earthquake-hit Haiti. New plans also envisaged sending around 350 soldiers back to Afghanistan in July 2010 to support reconstruction.


South Korea is one of the four East Asian tiger states : Since the 1960s, the country has developed at a rapid pace into one of the most important economies in the world, which has taken global leadership in some technology sectors. This was achieved in cooperation between government and business through a package of measures that included targeted loans, import restrictions, export promotion, sponsorship of certain economic sectors and industries as well as an enormous labor force. On the other hand, there is also poverty in South Korea , while in 2006 around 6.7 percent of the population lived below the poverty line, four years later it was 7%. In addition, old-age poverty in particular is increasing; in 2012, South Korean citizens received only 66.7% of the previously available household net income from retirement - this put South Korea in penultimate place compared to the 30 other OECD countries.

The Asian crisis of 1997 revealed the weak points of this economic miracle model: among other things, high debt / equity ratios, massive over-indebtedness and neglect in the financial sector. To overcome the Asian crisis, South Korea received help from the IMF , but under the condition that it reformed and strengthened its financial system. The extent to which the required reforms have been fully implemented is the subject of discussions. In 2001, South Korea repaid its debts to the IMF in full.

Today, South Korea is the eleventh largest economy in the world. In the 1990s it was one of the ten largest until it was overtaken by the populous BRICS countries . The per capita gross domestic product in South Korea now corresponds to that of an average EU country. The growth rates are still much higher than in Europe or the USA. According to the WAZ, the gross income in 2006 was around US $ 21,000, in 2016 it was around US $ 27,539. For comparison: in the early 1960s it was US $ 100. Since the beginning of 2010, South Korea has been one of the donor countries of the OECD Development Committee as the first former recipient country .

In the Global Competitiveness Index , which measures a country's competitiveness, South Korea ranks 26th out of 137 countries (as of 2017). In 2017, the country ranks 23rd out of 180 countries in the index for economic freedom .


The importance of agriculture to the economy of South Korea has steadily declined over the past few decades. In 2003, the share of agriculture in the country's gross domestic product was around 3.2%. Nevertheless, agriculture employs around 10% of the workforce. The most important agricultural product is rice , which is grown in around 80% of all farms. Self-sufficiency in rice is one of the priorities in South Korea's economic policy - although rice cultivation in South Korea is relatively expensive and around 70% of all rice fields have to be artificially irrigated. Other agricultural products include rye , wheat , soybeans , potatoes , vegetables and fruits, although the cultivation of these products is constantly falling and being replaced by imports. Due to falling prices for agricultural products, which are mainly caused by imports, there are repeated political and social disputes.

Rice fields in Gyeongju

Livestock breeding has grown in importance with the increasing prosperity of the population and is now the second most important agricultural sector.

Korean agriculture is currently undergoing a structural change, as a result of which farms run by individual married couples are slowly being displaced and replaced by larger, highly mechanized farms. In cattle breeding, too, the trend is towards large farms.

Forestry is of very little importance in South Korea. In the first half of the 20th century, the dense forests of the Korean Peninsula were largely destroyed by uncontrolled deforestation and armed conflict. After the Korean War , the reforestation began with success. The forests of South Korea today have an average age of less than 30 years. The country's demand for wood is therefore covered almost exclusively by imports. The fisheries and fish processing industry had sales of approximately $ 3.6 billion in 2000. South Korea has nearly 100,000 fishing vessels and 140,000 people are employed in fish processing. Sales and employment in the fishing industry have been falling steadily since the 1980s. The coastal waters of South Korea have been largely emptied, which led the government to regulate coastal and deep-sea fishing in 1997.


Industry contributes almost 35% to the gross domestic product and employs around 20% of all workers. Electronics such as computers, telecommunications equipment, consumer electronics, and semiconductors are primarily manufactured in South Korea; in addition, vehicles, ships, products from the chemical industry, steel and products from light industry such as textiles, shoes and food. South Korean companies are world leaders in the production of semiconductors, flat screens and ships. South Korean industrial production can still show high growth rates.

The large industrial sector reached its greatest expansion in the 1970s. In addition, small and medium-sized industries gained employment shares in the 1980s. Small and medium-sized enterprises increased their overall share of the workforce from 35% in 1970 to around 58% in 1998. Since then, South Korea's economy has been characterized by this dual economic structure; an oligopolistic large-scale industry exists alongside a significant competitive sector of small and medium-sized enterprises.

The dominant position of the Jaebeols is characteristic of the South Korean economy . These are large industrial conglomerates made up of legally independent individual companies. The individual companies are interwoven through networks at the level of top management , which in turn are controlled by a family clan through autocratic decision-making systems. The Jaebols are also anchored in society through constellations of interests with the state and banking system . The best known Jaebols are Hyundai , Samsung , Daewoo , and LG . They are mostly very diversified , even if only small parts of the Jaebols are known outside of South Korea. Samsung, for example, is also active in the insurance, machinery, wholesale and real estate sectors in South Korea.

The 1997/98 Asian crisis highlighted the weaknesses in this system. The inadequate competitiveness of the South Korean economic model led to financing problems for many Jaebols, which were reflected in rising debt ratios and, towards the end of the 1990s, brought the entire Jaebol system under pressure to change. The automotive industry was particularly hard hit by the crisis. A serious case was the collapse of the parent company Daewoo (1999) under the burden of around 80 billion US dollars in debt, which, with the bankruptcy of Daewoo Motors in 2000, led to the collapse of the second largest South Korean automobile manufacturer.

This difficult situation led to an increase in government intervention, after a phase of liberal reluctance in the 1990s. As part of its reform program to deal with the crisis, the government also took steps to dismantle some of these jaebols. The aim was to force companies to concentrate on their core business and to sell unprofitable business areas. Due to the unbundling of the Jaebol system and the takeover of ownership shares by foreign investors, almost the entire South Korean automotive industry is now secured by international investments. However, despite massive changes in many areas, little has changed in the basic structure, the control by family clans.

Korea's government had also drawn up a five-year plan to achieve global design leadership in 2010.

Service sector

The service sector generates about 62% of the South Korean gross domestic product. At the same time, it employs around 63% of the workforce. The main industries are financial services, retail, transportation, and tourism .

Tourism has grown steadily since the 1970s. About 170,000 people visited South Korea in 1970. In 2002, the year of the soccer World Cup in Japan and South Korea , 5.3 million visitors came to the country. Of these, about 43% were Japanese; the second largest group of visitors came from the People's Republic of China . In 2008 the number of visitors was 6,890,841 and in 2009 7,817,533. A short stay in South Korea is possible for visitors from many countries without a visa . The President of the National Tourism Authority of South Korea was Lee Charm, who was born in Germany from August 2009 to November 2013 . In recent years, the number of tourists from the People's Republic of China has increased sharply. In 2016, 17.2 million foreign tourists visited the country. International tourism revenue was over $ 17 billion that same year.

Energy industry

Electricity supply

According to the Korea Electric Power Corporation (KEPCO), the installed capacity of power plants in South Korea at the end of 2012 was 81,805  MW , of which caloric power plants accounted for 52,305 MW (63.9%), nuclear power plants 20,716 MW (25.3%) and on hydropower plants 6,446 MW (7.8%). The installed capacity of the thermal power plants was distributed as follows: coal 24,533 MW, natural gas 20,566 MW and oil 7,206 MW. A total of 509.574 billion kWh were produced in 2012 , of which 180.752 billion were produced by coal-fired power plants (35.5%), 150.327 billion by nuclear power plants (29.5%), 113.984 billion by gas-fired power plants (22.4%), 28.244 billion . from oil-fired power plants (5.5%) and 7.695 billion (1.5%) from hydropower plants.

According to the Korea Energy Economics Institute (KEEI), the different types of power plants had the following generation costs (given in per kWh):

year Nuclear energy coal oil LNG GuD Hydropower Pumped storage
2002 39.87 42.55 70.96 108.77 74.19 54.57 90.39
2008 39.11 51.24 192.06 163.91 142.50 134.39 212.35
2013 39.12 58.71 221.78 215.31 158.32 170.92 204.42

Similar values ​​can be found for this source for 2008: nuclear power 39.02 ₩ / kWh (0.0247 € / kWh), electricity from coal 51.1 ₩ / kWh (0.0324 € / kWh), hydropower 135.6 ₩ / kWh (0.0861 € / kWh), electricity from natural gas 143.6 ₩ / kWh (0.0912 € / kWh), electricity from crude oil 191.5 ₩ / kWh (0.1216 € / kWh), wind energy 126 .7 ₩ / kWh (0.080 € / kWh) and solar power 646.9 ₩ / kWh (0.411 € / kWh).

The peak load was reached on December 26, 2012 with 75,987 MW. In 2012, South Korea was 11th in the world for annual generation with 494.7 billion kWh and 14th for installed capacity with 84,870 MW.

Nuclear energy

Nuclear energy was massively expanded in South Korea (see list of nuclear power plants in Asia # South Korea ; the first reactor went into operation in 1977). In 2006 the share of nuclear power was around 39%. All plants are operated by the state-owned and monopoly Korea Hydro & Nuclear Power (KHNP) and built by the subcontractor Korea Power Engineering Company (KPEC). Korea sees it as an advantage that - if you import enough uranium (fuel rods) - you are self-sufficient. The Korea-US Atomic Energy Agreement from the 1970s prohibits Korea from enriching and reprocessing uranium. Korea is dependent on imports here.

The KEPCO Nuclear Fuel Company (KNFC) is responsible for the fuel procurement and is involved in mine projects and uranium mining together with KEPCO, Hanwha and KHNP in Canada, South Africa, Niger and South America . A 10-year contract for enrichment was signed with Areva NP in mid-2007 and a 2.5 stake in the Georges Besse II enrichment plant was acquired in 2009 . The first Kori-1 power plant was connected to the grid in 1977, and eight reactors were under construction in 1980. Initially, a Westinghouse design was used in the Kori nuclear power plant ; the reactors in the Hanbit nuclear power plant are based on the Framatome CP series . Canadian CANDU systems were installed in Wolsong . The first in-house development was the OPR-1000 with 1000 MWe; it went into operation from 1998. From this, the APR-1400 was developed, which will be built with increased redundancy and increased unit capacity of around 1400 MWe from 2008 and has also achieved export successes in the United Arab Emirates for the first time . In February 2012, three reactors were under construction and six more in the planning stage, 23 plants were connected to the grid. The aim is to increase the proportion of nuclear power to over 50% in the long term.

Korea Radioactive Waste Management Co. Ltd (KRWM) was founded in 2009 to dispose of nuclear waste . KHNP pays a disposal fee of 900,000 won (571 euros) per kilogram of spent fuel to KRWM, which corresponds to around 0.15 to 0.2 ct / kWh depending on the type of plant and is quite high in international comparison. In 2000, municipalities were asked to voluntarily register as a site for the disposal of low- and medium-level radioactive waste, whereupon seven applications submitted, but none of them achieved the necessary majority of the population. The Ministry of Knowledge Economy (MKE) then selected four locations in 2003, the winner should receive 300 billion won (around 190 million euros). In November 2005, Gyeongju won the bid after 89.5% of the voters there voted for it, while in other locations the approval was “only” 67.5 to 84.4%. Construction of the Wolsong repository began in July 2008; it should hold up to 281,600 m³ of waste. The Public Engagement Commission should prepare a report on the disposal of high-level radioactive waste by 2014 and then a decision should be taken when the 'Korea-US Atomic Energy Agreement' expires. Then it should be determined whether a direct final disposal is carried out or whether an entry into the reprocessing technology takes place. The latter solution was favored in 2009 for global economic and political reasons. The Public Engagement Commission's report was pending as of November 2015.

South Korea is a member of the Generation IV International Forum and is also working on the development of nuclear fusion ( ITER ). The Korea Superconducting Tokamak Advanced Research (KSTAR) with superconducting coils was put into operation in 2008.


South Korea is the second largest coal importer in the world after Japan. Around two thirds of the electricity consumed was produced in coal-fired power plants around 2001.

In 2008, South Korea imported almost 64 million tons of coal for power generation alone. The most important supplier countries were Indonesia with 26 and Australia with 22 million t. In 2013, 101 million tonnes of coal were imported for power generation and there are estimates that imports will increase to 140 million tonnes by 2030. Coal from Indonesia or Australia cost around USD 105 per ton in April 2014  .


South Korea has hardly any fossil fuels of its own; less than 3% of the energy requirement can be met from our own resources. The country ranks 19th in the world in terms of energy consumption per capita. South Korea was the fifth largest oil importer in the world in 2001, consuming around 2.1 million barrels of oil a day. Around 45% of the primary energy requirement was covered with crude oil in 2001. The high of 66% was reached in the mid-1990s and has been falling since then. The Korea National Oil Corporation (KNOC) was founded in order to ensure a continuous supply of crude oil . Its task is to hold a strategic oil reserve and to participate in exploration of deposits and production projects around the world.

South Korea has signed the Kyoto Protocol ; Measures to reduce carbon dioxide emissions are planned. The share of hydropower has remained constant at around 1.3% for years and is to be increased significantly through the construction of tidal power plants such as Sihwa-ho and larger systems. As part of the Jeju Smart Grid Demonstration Project , Jeju Island is being equipped with an intelligent power grid under the direction of the Korea Smart Grid Institute (KSGI) . Around 2.75 trillion won (1.75 billion euros) will be invested for this by the time it is completed in 2030.

labour market

South Korea's labor market comprised around 25.4 million people in 2016. The unemployment rate was around 3.7%.

About half of South Korean women of working age are active in the job. In January 2016, the number of working women was given as 11 million. The number of unemployed women is around 408,000.

minimum wage

South Korea has a minimum wage that is adjusted annually. In 2018 this was 7,530 won per hour (about 5.8 euros). In 2019 the minimum wage was raised to 8,350 won. An increase to 8590 won (around € 6.5) will follow on January 1, 2020. In 2021 the minimum wage will be 8,720 won.


In 2003 there were more than 6,500 trade unions in South Korea , representing about 11% of the workforce. Most of these unions exist at the company level, some of them are united in two national federations at the national level. In the same year there were 319 strikes in which a total of 1.3 million working days were lost. The government has been repeatedly criticized for failing to recognize unions in the public sector and for arresting unionists who engage in strikes. According to OECD data from 2004, Korean workers work 2,390 hours per year. That is 400 hours more than in Poland with the second largest number of hours and 34% more than in the United States. According to the South Korean government, the number of hours worked decreased slightly to 2,316 in 2007.

Both major union confederations

  • Federation of Korea Trade Unions (FKTU) and
  • Korean Confederation of Trade Unions (KCTU)

are members of the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC).

The number of members in the individual trade unions belonging to the FKTU is given as 878,628 members, for KCTU with 812,500 (as of November 2017).

international economic Relations

International economic relations, especially exports, are one of the central points of South Korea's foreign policy. The country has been a member of the WTO since 1995 . Exports have grown rapidly since the 1970s. While they represented around 10% of GDP in the early 1970s, that percentage was 50.6% in 2014. The most important export goods are electronics, vehicles, consumer electronics, nuclear technology and machines, steel, ships and products of the chemical industry. The most important sales markets for South Korean goods are the People's Republic of China and the USA . This is followed by Hong Kong , Vietnam and Japan . The most important import goods are crude oil, food, machines and vehicles, chemicals and metals. Most of the imports come from the People's Republic of China, the USA, Japan, Germany and Australia .

Total exports in 2015 were around $ 527 billion and imports were around $ 436 billion. This resulted in a foreign trade surplus of $ 91 billion.

Foreign firms invested nearly $ 184 billion in South Korea in 2016. The largest investors with around 36% are the countries of the European Union, followed by Singapore, the USA, Hong Kong and Japan. While American investments are focused on the service sector, Japanese companies are largely investing in industrial companies. Foreign investment is hampered by concerns about corruption , political instability and unfair trade practices.

Economic indicators

The key economic indicators of gross domestic product , inflation, budget balance and foreign trade have developed as follows in recent years:

Change in gross domestic product (GDP)
in% compared to the previous year (real)
year 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014 2015 2016 2017
Change in% vs. Previous year 3.9 5.2 5.5 2.8 0.7 6.5 3.7 2.3 2.9 3.3 2.8 2.9 3.1
Korea's GDP according to the World Bank
Development of GDP (nominal)
absolute (in billion US $)
Development of GDP (nominal)
per inhabitant (in thousand US $)
year 2014 2015 2016 year 2014 2015 2016
1,411 1,383 1,411 27.8 27.1 27.5
Inflation rate according to the World Bank
year 2014 2015 2016
Development of the inflation rate
in% vs. the previous year
1.3 0.7 1.0
Budget balances according to gtai
year 2009 2010 2011
Development of the budget balance
as% of GDP
−1.1 0.0 0.8
Development of foreign trade
(in billion US $ and its change compared to the previous year in%)
2014 2015 2016
Billion US $ % yoy Billion US $ % yoy Billion US $ % year-on-year
import 525.6 1.9 436.5 −16.9 406.2 −6.9
export 2.4 526.8 −8.1 495.4 −5.9
balance 47.5 90.3 89.2
Main trading partner of South Korea in 2016 according to GTAI
Export (in percent) to Import (in percent) of
China People's RepublicPeople's Republic of China People's Republic of China 25.1 China People's RepublicPeople's Republic of China People's Republic of China 21.4
United StatesUnited States United States 13.5 JapanJapan Japan 11.7
Hong KongHong Kong Hong Kong 6.6 United StatesUnited States United States 10.7
VietnamVietnam Vietnam 6.6 GermanyGermany Germany 4.7
JapanJapan Japan 4.9 TaiwanRepublic of China (Taiwan) Taiwan 4.0
SingaporeSingapore Singapore 2.5 Saudi ArabiaSaudi Arabia Saudi Arabia 3.9
TaiwanRepublic of China (Taiwan) Taiwan 2.5 AustraliaAustralia Australia 3.7
United NationsU.N. other states 38.3 United NationsU.N. other states 39.9

The OECD forecast economic growth of 2.8% for South Korea in 2017. In the final quarter of 2008 it was -5.6% due to the global economic crisis. In 2009 the value recovered to 0.2%.

State budget

The state budget in 2016 included expenditures equivalent to US $ 321.0 billion  ; this contrasted with revenues of the equivalent of 304.3 billion US dollars. This results in a budget deficit of 1.2% of GDP .

The national debt in 2016 was $ 550 billion, or 39.0% of GDP. The rating agency Standard & Poor's are government bonds of the country with a grade of AA rated (as of November 2018) and were thus slightly behind the top score.

In 2006 the share of government expenditure (as a percentage of GDP) was in the following areas:


Thanks to targeted investments, a highly modern and dense network of traffic and transport infrastructure has been built in the last few decades. In the Logistics Performance Index , which is compiled by the World Bank and measures the quality of the infrastructure, South Korea was ranked 25th out of 160 countries in 2018.

Rail transport


The first rail link in Korea was a section of the Gyeongin Line , which connects Seoul to nearby Incheon and opened on September 18, 1899. The Gyeongbu Line from Seoul to Busan opened on January 1, 1905. Parallel to this most important rail route in South Korea , a high-speed line was opened in 2004 , the first in the country.


At the beginning of 2019, the South Korean railway network had a length of 4113 km. Of this, 656 km are used for high-speed traffic . The infrastructure of the railway infrastructure authority Korea Rail Network Authority developed (KRNA) and operated.

The state rail transport authority KORAIL handles the vast majority of rail traffic in South Korea. In April 2018 she owned a total of 16,639 vehicles. 1530 of them were power cars and passenger cars for multiple units of the high-speed traffic . Another 2,937 vehicles ran in other railcars. The inventory also included 456 locomotives, 10,665 freight cars , 920 passenger cars and 116 generator cars .

Four types of train are offered for passenger transport . For details see: here .

Since South Korea occupies the outer end of the Korean peninsula, its only land border is with North Korea . Due to the political situation, rail traffic between the two countries is extremely limited: there is no passenger traffic. If the political situation permits, goods traffic will take place between South Korea and the Kaesŏng Special Economic Zone . In addition, at the end of 2018, the Russian FESCO Transportation Group and the South Korean Hyundai Glovis , which belongs to the Hyundai Motor Group , examined whether privileged rail traffic through North Korea is possible between South Korea and Russia . A South Korean train with 28 South Korean experts stayed in North Korea for 18 days to check the railway infrastructure to see whether it was technically possible.


Subway systems are now in operation in the six largest cities in South Korea . They represent a cornerstone in local transport in large cities and are constantly being expanded.

The first and largest subway network in South Korea was the Seoul Subway . It was opened in 1974 and today comprises eight lines with a total length of 287 kilometers and 263 stations. This subway connects the city with the numerous satellite cities in the surrounding area and is used by an average of 5.6 million passengers every day.
The Busan Subway opened in 1985. Today the route network comprises three lines with a total length of 88.8 kilometers and 90 stations, the daily transport performance is over 706,000 passengers.
In 1997 the first line of the Daegu metro went into operation, a second line was opened in 2005. Since then, the network has covered 57.3 kilometers with 56 stations. In a fire caused by a mentally ill person on February 18, 2003 , almost 200 people were killed. The attack is considered to be one of the worst in the history of the subway worldwide.
Opened in 1999, the Incheon subway covers a line of 15 miles with 22 stations. It is structurally connected to the Seoul subway network.
The first line of the Gwangju subway was opened in 2004 and has so far comprised 14 stations with a length of 12 kilometers.
The Daejeon subway was opened in March 2006 with 12 stations and a length of 12.4 kilometers.

Road traffic

Motorway signage for the Asian Highway Project

The road network in South Korea has a total length of 97,252 kilometers, of which 74,641 kilometers are paved. The highway network, known as the Express Way in South Korea , began operating with the 24-kilometer highway from Seoul to Incheon, which opened in 1968. The significantly longer highway from Seoul to Busan, at 425.5 kilometers, was opened two years later. At the end of 2005, the Express Way network comprised 24 motorways with a total length of 2968 kilometers, most of which are subject to tolls.

Bus transport

In addition to the generally well-developed city ​​bus networks , South Korea also has a well-developed national bus network . Intercity buses connect most of the country's cities. Many lines make several stops, others go non-stop to their destination. The express buses that use the national motorway network - usually with their own bus lane - are a little more expensive. Around half of the lines begin or end in Seoul, and around 70 other cities are connected to the network. The busiest lines are served every 5 to 10 minutes, with all buses going directly to their destination.

Individual transport

Main street in Yongsan, Seoul, in the background the N Seoul Tower

With the country's economic boom, automobile traffic has seen a dramatic increase. The number of registered vehicles rose from 527,729 to 15,493,681 between 1980 and 2006. This corresponds to an increase of 14% annually. The increase is even clearer if one only looks at the class of passenger cars. Their number rose from 249,102 (1980) to 11,224,016 in 2006, which corresponds to a 45-fold increase. This led to the usual problems, especially in large cities. In addition to road congestion, road traffic is a heavy burden on the environment. Seoul has to endure the highest air pollution of all cities in the member states of the OECD .

In 2013, there were a total of 12 road deaths for every 100,000 inhabitants in South Korea. For comparison: In Germany there were 4.3 deaths in the same year. A total of 5930 people were killed in traffic. The country has a high rate of motorization by global standards. In 2014 there were 459 motor vehicles for every 1000 inhabitants in the country.

air traffic

Incheon International Airport

In order to do justice to the also strongly increased importance of air traffic , Incheon International Airport was put into operation in 2001 on the island of Yeongjongdo , 52 kilometers west of Seoul . It replaced the congested Gimpo Airport as a hub for international flights , from which mainly national destinations are served.

From Incheon International Airport, the two South Korean airlines Korean Air and Asiana Airlines offer more than 1700 direct international connections to the most important cities in Asia, North America, Europe and the Middle East every week.

National flights are offered between Seoul, Busan , Jeju , Daegu , Gwangju , Jinju , Wonju , Cheongju , Yeosu , Ulsan , Yangyang and Pohang . In 2003, 21.3 million passengers were carried between these cities.


The “Hanjin Vienna” of Hanjin Shipping in Hamburg

Due to its location on the Korean Peninsula with hundreds of inhabited islands and the situation as an export nation, shipping plays an important role for South Korea. The main seaports are Incheon and Gunsan on the west coast, Mokpo , Jinhae and Masan on the south coast, and Busan, Donghae , Ulsan and Pohang on the east coast. The annual cargo throughput in the South Korean ports was 596 million tons in 2003, compared to 9 million tons in 1961. In 2005, the South Korean merchant navy comprised 650 ships with more than 1000 gross tons .

International ferries run from Incheon to Weihai , Yantai , Qingdao , Shanghai , Tianjin , Dalian and Dandong in the People's Republic of China . Busan offers routes to Shimonoseki , Tsushima and Hakata in Japan and Yantai in China. Lianyungang , which is served by Mokpo, is also located in China . In addition, Sokcho is offered a route to Zarubino in Russia . National ferries go to the numerous islands. However, due to the Jeju International Airport on the island of Jeju, the ferry lines there are becoming increasingly less important.


There are three cellular operators in South Korea: SK Telecom , KT and LG Uplus . While the number of landlines in South Korea has practically not changed in recent years, the number of cell phones has risen sharply. In 2004 there were 26.6 million landlines and 36.6 million cell phones in South Korea with a population of 48.8 million people. The number of broadband internet connections was 12.2 million, making the country the most broadband connections per inhabitant in the world for a long time until it was overtaken by Iceland in 2006 . The number of PCs was 26.2 million devices and the number of Internet users was 43.2 million. South Korea had the fastest internet in the world in 2017.

In South Korea, pornographic web content, North Korean websites and online services that the authorities believe could disturb “ public order ” are blocked.

Research and Development

Share of spending on research and development in South Korea in relation to gross domestic product . Source: OECD, EUROSTAT. Calculations and estimates by the NIW in Schasse et al. (2016). Data from the EFI report 2016.

South Korea spent 4.3% of GDP on research and development in 2014, a percentage more than any other country. In 2006, the South Korean government implemented a set of rules through which authors of technical articles in major journals such as Science , Nature and Cell receive 3 million won. To further strengthen research, the Institute for Basic Science was founded, comparable to RIKEN in Japan and the Max Planck Society in Germany .

Albert HUBO

After Japan , the USA and Germany , South Korea has the fourth highest inventory of industrial robots in the world . The growth was about 59% from 2011 to 2014 and shows a quantity of 150,505 robots. In service robotics, South Korea is a leader alongside Japan. In 2005, researchers at the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST) developed the world's second walking humanoid robot , HUBO . A team from the Korea Institute of Industrial Technology developed the first Korean android , Ever-1, in May 2006.

science and technology

South Korea has the highest rate of science and engineering graduates in the OECD . The country also tops the Bloomberg Innovation Index . Furthermore, South Korea has only few limits for new technologies and is therefore used as a test market, especially for smartphone technology. Numerous inventions of new media and apps as well as 4G and 5G infrastructures are being implemented in South Korea.

Space travel

A replica of Naro-1

South Korea has launched more than 15 satellites into space since 1992, including four remote sensing satellites as part of the KOMPSat program from 1999 in cooperation with Russia. The first of these satellites, Arirang-1 , was lost in 2008 after nine years of use in space.

In April 2008, Yi So-yeon became the first Korean astronaut to fly into space aboard a Russian Soyus TMA-12 . In June 2009, South Korea's first spaceport , the Naro Space Center , went into operation in Goheung ( Jeollanam-do ). The launch of the Naro-1 rocket in August 2009 failed. The second attempt in June 2010 was also unsuccessful. The third launch in January 2013 was finally successful.

South Korea's efforts to develop its own launcher are met with political pressure from the US , which has hampered South Korea's ambitions for several decades. The US feared that these could be secret military programs. South Korea sought cooperation with other states, such as Russia , in order to develop a domestic missile technology.


Due to the great influence of Confucianism , education has traditionally been given a very high value in Korea. This is also noticeable today, where training essentially determines later social status. Modern schools were introduced in Korea in the 1880s. With the establishment of South Korea, the government began to build a modern school system based on the Western model. Today, South Korea has one of the highest literacy rates in the world, and the well-educated population is seen as one of the main reasons for the strong economic boom in the past. The South Korean education system is highly centralized. The institution responsible for the education system is the "Ministry of Education and Human Resource Development".

The South Korean education system has also come under increasing criticism in recent years. In particular, the great pressure to perform in high school is criticized. It is not uncommon for students in these schools (similar to Japan) to have a 12-hour day and attend several cramming schools called Hagwon . The final exam is crucial for which university you can attend. This in turn is decisive for later career opportunities and social status. On the day of the exam, many people drive to work later so that students don't get stuck in rush hour traffic; even aircraft take-offs have to stop at certain times.


Pre-school education has grown in importance in recent years. Was there in 1980 nationwide, only 901 preschools, their number rose to 2003 on the 8292nd Since 1999, nursery places subsidized for children from low-income families by the state. In 2002 the program was expanded to completely exempt 20% of five-year-old kindergarten children from fees.

The school system is divided into a six-year elementary school ( 초등학교 ,初等 學 敎, chodeunghakgyo ), a three-year middle school ( 중학교 ,中學 敎, junghakgyo ) and a three-year high school ( 고등학교 ,高等 學 敎, godeunghakgyo ). Attendance at elementary school and, since 2002, middle school is compulsory; almost all pupils then switch to high school (99.7% of all pupils in 2004). In primary school classes there are an average of 26.2 students per teacher (as of 2002). At the middle school, a teacher teaches an average of 19 students (as of 2004). The average class size in 2003 was 34.5 students.

There are two types of high schools, a general high school preparatory to college ( 인문계 고등학교 ,人文 系 高等 學 敎, called inmun-gye godeunghakgyo ) and a pre-vocational high school ( 고등학교 고등학교 ,實業 系 高等 學 敎, sireobgye godeunghakgyo ) , of which in turn there are four subspecies that prepare specifically for the subjects of agriculture, engineering and economics, and oceanography. The curriculum at these schools contains between 40 and 60% subjects from these areas, the rest being general education. Some of the general education high schools also specialize in certain subjects such as arts, sports, science or foreign languages ​​(such as the HAFS ). In 2004 there were 729 pre-vocational high schools with 514,550 students and 1,351 general high schools with 1.23 million students. Around 97% of a year graduate successfully complete high school; With this value, South Korea is at the top worldwide.


South Korea has a differentiated higher education system. Universities and colleges offer four-year bachelor's degrees (six- year courses for medicine and dentistry). This can be followed by advanced degree programs for a doctorate . Teacher training takes place at our own universities (four years), there are also vocational colleges (two or four years), distance universities , and several schools with university status that offer two or four year courses. In 2004 there were a total of 411 higher education institutions in South Korea with a total of 3.56 million students and around 64,000 teachers. While there were only 52 universities in the country in 1960, in 2013 their number was many times higher at 345. 71% of all high school students who have achieved college admission go to university, of which between 600,000 and 700,000 students graduate from university annually. A special challenge for the South Korean job market.

A peculiarity in the South Korean education system are special universities for women only. These date from the time when the other universities were only accessible to male students; some of them were founded by Christian missionaries. However, there are no longer any universities exclusively for men. Some of the universities are state-founded, others are private. The best-known state university is Seoul National University , while Yonsei University and Korea University are highly regarded among the private institutions .


Haeinsa Temple , UNESCO World Heritage Site

South Korea shares traditional culture with North Korea. However, the differences between North and South Korea have made contemporary South Korean culture different from that of the North. South Korean films, drama series and music have enjoyed increasing worldwide popularity since the 1990s . This phenomenon is known as the Korean Wave (Hallyu) .


In the West, the author Kim Chi-ha became known because he expressed the rebellion against the dictatorship of Park Chung-hee in his works . Because of this, he was sentenced to death in 1974. This triggered an international scandal and protests from Western intellectuals such as Jean-Paul Sartre , Heinrich Böll and Noam Chomsky followed until an amnesty was granted . One of the most famous South Korean works in German-speaking countries is probably the novel As Mother Disappeared by Sin Kyong-suk . Three themes conspicuously determine contemporary literature in South Korea: The partition of Korea as well as the Korean War and the industrialization of the country since the 1960s. In addition, the alienation of the individual takes place in a capitalist and urbanized society that wrestles with its traditional values. The generation of authors after 1945 is also known as the Hangeul generation, as they no longer wrote in the Japanese language.

In South Korea, stadiums sometimes fill up when reading literature. South Korea was the guest country at the Frankfurt Book Fair 2005. Notable contemporary authors from South Korea are Park Kyung-ni , Ko Un , Yi Mun-yol , Hwang Sok-yong and Pak Wanso . Hwang Sok-yong experienced the Korean War himself and was a soldier in the Vietnam War . A central theme of his works is the conflict between tradition and modernity.

The author Han Kang was awarded the most important British literary prize, the Man Booker Prize , for her work The Vegetarian in 2016 . The book was also translated into German. Like many writers of the younger generation, Han is also grappling with the push of modernization. Criticism of globalization and a skepticism of progress can also be seen. The writer Kim Young-ha, on the other hand, is a believer in modernization. Ijoma Mangold from the Süddeutsche Zeitung describes his story Klingende Weihnachtsgrüße as "a psychological story of great sophistication and a very contemporary character". The novels by the authors Kim Ryŏ-ryŏng and Gong Ji-young are also popular. Some of her works have been successfully filmed.


Comics from South Korea are called Manhwa and are also finding increasing interest in Germany. There are numerous so-called Manhwabangs in South Korea , in which Manhwas can be read and borrowed. Comics from South Korea are gaining increasing international attention thanks to webtoons and apps such as Daum Webtoon and Line Webtoon. Well-known authors are Jeon Geuk-jin, Yoon Tae-ho, Yang Yeong-soon, Chon Kye-young, Horang, Kang Full and Soonkki.


Western music reached Korea in the late 19th century in the form of Christian hymns by the missionaries . At the time of the Korean Empire , the spread of Western music was mainly driven by the military band. The German conductor Franz Eckert was commissioned in 1901 to found and manage it. In 1915, during the period when Korea was a colony of Japan (1910-1945), the above-mentioned military band was dissolved. Instead of traditional music, only Western and Japanese music was taught in the state school system. Thus this music took a firm place in Korea. Korean musicians who studied Western music in Japan, such as Hyeon Che-myeong (1902–1960) or Choi Dong-seon (1901–1953), returned to Korea in the 1930s and tried to improve the quality of the musical education there . At the same time, music consumption experienced strong growth through the construction of new theaters and concert halls, as well as through the record industry.

With the beginning of the Second Sino-Japanese War in 1937, the then General Governor General of the Korean colony, Minami Jirō , officially initiated an approximation policy. Pro-Japan-oriented musicians, including Hong Nan-pa ( Jap. Morikawa June, 1897-1941) and Hyeon Che-myeong (Jap. Kuroyama), then leading figures represented the Korean music scene. After the Second World War and the Korean War was initially burdened the creative climate.

The composers of the late 1960s, such as Kang Suk-hi (born 1934), Paik Pyong-dong (born 1936), and Kim Chong-gil (born 1934), believed that they were adopting the Western compositional techniques of the 20th century would have to take over if they wanted to free the creative life of South Korea from its historical backwardness. These leading composers of the second generation studied with the Korean-German composer Yun I-sang in Hanover . He is considered to be the first artist to combine the forms and sounds of traditional Korean music with contemporary European music.

The composers of the third generation of modern musicians urged to overcome the musical tenets of their predecessors. In the 1980s they formed a movement to develop a "Korean" music theory. A number of musicians, including Yi Keon-yong (b. 1947), believed that “real Korean music” would be impossible if you only followed Western techniques. In the beginning of the 21st century, the dissent seems to have largely been resolved. The musicians are now trying to creatively use Korea's artistic heritage with a reasonable acceptance of Western music.


BTS is currently one of the most popular boy groups in the world.

In the wake of the Korean wave , K-Pop became very popular all over Asia and also worldwide.

Until the 1990s, trot and ballads were the predominant genre in South Korea. The emergence of the rap-pop group Seo Taiji and Boys in 1992 marked a turning point in the Korean music market, and pop music with many boy and girl groups , but also solo singers, became popular. In 2007 Girls' Generation kicked off another wave of girl groups, which is currently flattening out somewhat. Psy in particular became known worldwide through his hit Gangnam Style (2012). Other currently very popular artists are BTS , Twice , IU , Hong Jin-young , Wanna One , Red Velvet and Blackpink . In 2018, BTS became the first Korean band to reach the top of the Billboard 200 with their album Love Yourself: Tear . It is also the first non-English-language album in twelve years at number one on the US charts. A few months later, BTS were able to repeat this success with Love Yourself: Answer . Due to the worldwide success of K-Pop, South Korea became the sixth largest music market in the world, despite the relatively small population.


Karaoke is a popular pastime in South Korea. The so-called Noraebangs can be found in many corners and are popular with young, but also with many older people. The Korean karaoke rooms can be compared to the Japanese karaoke boxes.


The entrance to the Daehan Cinema in Seoul - one of the oldest cinemas in Korea.

In terms of cinema admissions , South Korea is the fourth largest film market in the world with over 200 million tickets sold annually. In addition, the Busan International Film Festival , the largest film festival in Asia, takes place every year. One of the largest cinema chains in the world is CJ CGV , based in Seoul. Two other big chains are Lotte Cinema and Megabox. The former holds the world record for the largest cinema screen in the world with the Super Plex G in the Lotte World Tower . The previous record holder is also in Seoul: The CGV Starium.

Since the 1990s, the South Korean film gained international importance. The feature film Shiri , released in 1999, represents the first major commercial success. In Seoul alone, the film had over 2 million viewers. South Korean films were also successful at the largest European film festivals. In 2002, Lee Chang-dong's film Oasis won the Silver Lion of Venice . In 2004 Kim Ki-duk was honored at the Berlinale for the best director for Samaria and in the same year Oldboy was awarded the Grand Jury Prize in Cannes . In 2010 Lee Chang-dong received an award in Cannes for the best script for poetry . Kim Ki-duk's film Pieta received the Golden Lion of the Venice Film Festival in 2012 and Hong Sang-soo's Right Now, Wrong Then received the Golden Leopard of Locarno in 2015 . The most important national awards are the Blue Dragon Award and the Grand Bell Award . Park Chan-wook's The Pickpocket became the first South Korean film to win the British Academy Film Award in 2018 . In 2019, the critically acclaimed mystery thriller Burning was considered the first South Korean film for the long list of the Oscars in the category of best foreign language film , but was ultimately not nominated. In 2019, Bong Joon-hos Parasite was the first Korean film to be awarded the Palme d'Or at the 72nd Cannes International Film Festival .


In contemporary South Korean art, the traditional Korean formal language enters into a dialogue with Western modernism. For several years now, contemporary art from South Korea has been attracting increasing attention and has also achieved high prices in major art auctions, after having been in the shadow of Chinese art for a long time. Important painters and visual artists include Oh Junggeun and Kim Tschoon Su and Suh Yongsun .

In video art, Nam June Paik is considered the world's most important pioneer. He is known as the "father of video art".


PC Bang in Seoul

Online games and the traditional Baduk (Japanese: Go ) board game became an important part of South Korean culture. Baduk games are broadcast on television and repeated for factual analysis.

South Korea is known as the "Mecca of e-sports ". For a long time the PC - strategy game StarCraft: Brood War is by far the most televised game in South Korea. The games are often broadcast by channels such as MBCGame and OnGameNet , but can also be followed on the Internet on sites such as GOMtv. Tournaments are usually broadcast live and have a large audience. Professional Starcraft players can earn a lot of money by playing in South Korea and are sometimes also viewed as celebrities, such as B. Lim Yo-hwan ("Boxer"), Lee Jae-dong ("Jaedong") and Lee Young-ho ("Flash"). Since around 2011, League of Legends has reached a level of popularity similar to that of StarCraft: Brood War in the 2000s.

Computer games are usually played in so-called PC Bangs , which are similar to Internet cafes , but can only be used to play LAN titles, such as MapleStory , World of Warcraft , Mabinogi , Lineage . Although it is primarily a leisure activity for students, people of all ages can be found here regardless of gender.


Taekwondo is the national sport of South Korea and has been an Olympic sport since 2000 . Other Korean martial arts include Taekgyeon , Hapkido , Tang Soo Do , Kuk Sool Won , Kumdo, and Subak .

One sport that South Korea has dominated at the Olympic Games for decades is archery .

Football and baseball are traditionally considered the most popular sports in South Korea. South Korea, along with Japan, hosted the 2002 World Cup , the first World Cup in Asia. During the tournament, the South Korean national soccer team became the first of the AFC soccer association to reach the semi-finals of a soccer world championship. Since the soccer world championship in 1986 the qualification for every tournament has been achieved and the knockout phase was reached twice: in 2002 and then at the soccer world championship in 2010 when they reached the second round.

Baseball came to Korea through US missionaries in 1905, and the sport has grown rapidly since then, including during the Japanese occupation. The KBO League was founded in 1982 and is one of the most popular baseball leagues worldwide. The South Korean national basketball team finished third in the 2006 World Baseball Classic and second in the 2009 World Baseball Classic . The final of the 2009 tournament against Japan attracted a lot of spectator interest in South Korea.

Basketball is also a popular sport in South Korea. The South Korean national basketball team is one of the strongest in Asia and the country has one of the strongest basketball leagues on mainland Asia.

Rugby Union is also played in South Korea. However, the South Korean national team has not yet qualified for a Rugby Union World Cup . The national team is considered one of the strongest in Asia after Japan and Hong Kong and takes part in the Asia Rugby Championship , where you compete against other emerging national teams.

South Korea is one of three Asian countries that hosted the Olympic and Paralympic Games . The 1988 Summer Olympics and the 1988 Summer Paralympics were held in Seoul , the last during the Cold War. Pyeongchang hosted the 2018 Winter Olympics and the 2018 Winter Paralympics that followed .

The Korean Grand Prix was part of the Formula 1 calendar between 2010 and 2013 and was held at the Korean International Circuit in Yeongam , but was not very popular and was removed from the racing calendar.


Korean newspapers

The most important daily newspapers are the Chosun Ilbo , JoongAng Ilbo and Dong-a Ilbo , which are considered conservative and are often summarized under the term Chojoongdong ( 조중동 ). The Hankyoreh is a politically more left-wing newspaper. The main television broadcasters are KBS , MBC and SBS .

Overall, the non-governmental organization Reporters Without Borders rates the freedom of the press as satisfactory. However, she complains that journalists are being tried for alleged violations of the national security law, which has been in force since 1949. Directors of influential broadcasters are selected at the suggestion of the presidential office and are therefore usually filled with party friends who prevent reports that are critical of the government.


The South Korean national dish is kimchi , a predominantly spicy pickled vegetable. Bulgogi (fried strips of beef) occupies a special position among South Korean main dishes . The strips of meat marinated in a mixture of soy sauce , sesame seeds and spices are fried over a charcoal fire. Galbi are tender ribs that, like bulgogi, are marinated and fried or grilled. But not the meat, but still the rice is an important part of the meal in South Korea.

A real South Korean meal also includes soup, which is considered one of the country's earliest culinary achievements. Famous, for example, is the doenjangguk , a soup made from fermented soybeans ( doenjang ) with vegetables and often also mussels. The light broth made from Myeolchi powder (dried, fermented, ground anchovies) and vegetable soups made from dry spinach , radish slices or fresh or dried seaweed (miyeokguk) are also popular . Chilled fruit, chopped into pieces, is the usual dessert: depending on the season, these are different melons, strawberries, apples or nashi pears . Tteok (rice cake) is also served on festive occasions . Its consumption has ritual reasons. The Bosintang soup made from dog meat also has a long tradition .

Legal holidays

date German name Korean Hanja Romanized annotation
January 1st New Years Day - - - -
1st to 3rd day of the 1st lunar month Lunar New Year calendar 설날 - Seollal Three-day festival, usually in early February
1st March Independence Day 3 · 1 절 三 一 節 Samiljeol Reminder of the March 1st Movement
5th of May Children's day 어린이 날 - Eorininal By 1975, "Day of the Young" called
8th day of the 4th lunar month Buddha's birthday 부처님 오신 날 - Bucheon in Osinnal Usually at the end of May
6th of June Remembrance day 현충일 顯忠 日 Hyeonchung-il -
15th of August Independence day 광복절 光復 節 Gwangbokjeol Remembering the end of the Japanese colonial era in 1945
15th to 18th day of the 8th lunar month Thanksgiving 추석 秋夕 Chuseok Three-day festival, usually at the end of September
October 3 Open Heaven Day /
Foundation Day of the Nation
개천절 開 天 節 Gaecheonjeol The mythological foundation of Korea by Dangun
9th October Hangul day 한글날 - Hangeullal -
25 December Christmas 성탄절 /
聖誕節 Seongtanjeol / Keuriseumaseu Keuriseumaseu - Korean loan word from the English Christmas


  • Song Du-yul , Rainer Werning : Korea. From the colony to the divided country . Promedia Verlag, Vienna 2012, ISBN 978-3-85371-340-2 .
  • Colin Dürkop, Sebastian Ratzer: South Korea and the G-20. From Asia's poor house to an economic wonder nation . Ed .: Konrad Adenauer Foundation. Issue 5. Sankt Augustin 2010 ( [PDF; 233 kB ; accessed on November 29, 2015]).
  • Markus C. Pohlmann: South Korea's company . In: Thomas Kern, Patrick Köllner (eds.): South Korea and North Korea. Introduction to history, politics, economics and society . Campus Verlag, Frankfurt 2005, ISBN 3-593-37739-X ( [PDF; 1.6 MB ; accessed on November 29, 2015]).
  • Marion Eggert , Jörg Plassen : A Little History of Korea - From the Beginnings to the Present . 2nd Edition. Verlag CH Beck, Munich 2018, ISBN 978-3-406-70057-6 .

Web links

Commons : South Korea  - collection of pictures, videos and audio files
Portal: Korea  - Overview of Wikipedia content on the topic of Korea
Wiktionary: South Korea  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations
 Wikinews: South Korea  - in the news
Wikivoyage: South Korea  Travel Guide

Websites in Germany:

Websites in Austria:

Websites in South Korea:

Other websites:

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Coordinates: 36 °  N , 128 °  E

This version was added to the list of articles worth reading on December 20, 2005 .