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Country Profile

Area: 99,222 sq km (45% of the peninsula)
Population: 48.747 million (2009 estimate)
Capital city: Seoul (population: 10m)
People: Korean with a small Chinese minority
Language(s): Korean
Religion(s): Wide range of religion from Shamanism, the oldest, to Buddhism, Confucianism, Chondoism, Catholicism, and Protestantism.
Currency: ROK Won (KRW)
Major political parties: Grand National Party (GNP); Democratic Party; Liberty Forward Party (LFP); Pro-Park Alliance (PPA); Democratic Labour Party (DLP).
Government: Presidential system backed by unicameral (one chamber) National Assembly of 299 members elected for 4 years.
President: Lee Myung-bak (elected December 2007).
Prime Minister: Kim Hwang-sik (since 1 October 2010)
Foreign Affairs and Trade Minister: Kim Sung-hwan (since 8 October 2010)
Membership of international groupings/organisations: African Development Bank (AFDB), Asia Pacific Economic Co-operation (APEC), Asian Development Bank (ADB), Conference on Interaction and Confidence-Building Measures in Asia (CICA), Colombo Plan, Co-ordinating Committee on Export Controls, Customs Co-operation Council, OECD Development Assistance Committee (DAC), Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP), European Bank of Reconstruction and Development (EBRD), Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (IBRD), International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO), International Cotton Advisory Committee (ICAO), Interpol, International Finance Corporation (IFC), International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), International Hydrographic Organization (IHO), International Labour Organisation (ILO), International Maritime Organisation (IMO), International Mobile Satellite Organisation, International Monetary Fund (IMF), International Organisation for Migration (IOM), International Standards for Organisation, International Telecommunications Satellite Organization (Intelsat), International Telecommunication Union (ITU), International Whaling Commission, International Wheat Council, International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), Organisation of American States and the Community of Andean Nations (OAS - observer), Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), United Nations (UN), United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), United Nations Industrial Development Organisation (UNIDO), Universal Postal Union (UPU), World Health Organisation (WHO) World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO), World Meteorological Organisation (WMO), World Trade Organisation (WTO).

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Basic economic facts

GDP: 823.5 billion (2009)
GDP per head: US $19,830 (2009)
Real GDP growth: 0.2% (2009)
Inflation: 2.8% (2009)
Major industries: Steel, Shipbuilding, Automotive, Electronics, Machinery
Major trading partners: China, US, EU and Japan UK is third largest trading partner among EU members.
Aid and development: The ROK is an emerging donor and joined the OECD Development Assistance Committee (DAC) in November 2009. Its aid programme was worth 0.1% of GNI in 2009 although the Government aims to increase this to 0.25% by 2015.
Exchange rate: £1 = 1772 KRW (October 2010)
The ROK was one of the Asian 'miracle' economies. With its economy based on agriculture, the ROK was probably the poorer of the two Koreas until the start of the 1970s. However, from the start of the first economic development plans in 1962, the ROK was able to maintain annual growth at an average of 8% for three decades. With this rapid growth, the ROK was the world's eleventh largest economy by 1997.

However, problems surfaced in January 1997 with the collapse of Hanbo Steel, the flagship company of one of Korea's largest chaebol (conglomerates). The effects of the Asian financial crisis were felt towards the end of the year with falls in the value of stocks and the won accelerating. The situation deteriorated until the central bank had to abandon its efforts to support the won and the government was reluctantly forced in December 1997 to appeal to the IMF for a $57bn rescue package.

Elected in late 1997, President Kim Dae-jung, committed the ROK to the conditions imposed by the IMF. In 1998, the economy underwent severe contraction, with per capita GDP falling to $6,200 (lower than in 1991) and unemployment hitting 8% in the 'IMF recession'. Owing to the government's policy commitment, the ROK stock market was the world's best performer in dollar terms in 1998 and, by 2000, real growth was around 10%. Growth then slowed but it was still averaging almost 5% per year, with ROK exporters receiving a strong boost from China's economic expansion. The global economic downturn had a major effect on the ROK and President Lee warned that target growth of 3% in 2008 could prove unattainable. Despite economic activity dropping sharply in the last quarter of the year, the ROK still managed to achieve 2.2% growth in 2008 although growth was down to only 0.2% in 2009.

The Republic of Korea was ranked the 15th largest economy in the world in GDP terms in 2009 (source World Bank).

To maintain competitiveness in a rapidly changing global environment, the ROK has been actively pursuing FTA's with large economies and economic blocs. The Republic of Korea has FTA's with Chile, Singapore and EFTA currently in force and one with the EU that comes into force on 1 July 2011. It has signed FTA's with ASEAN (Goods and services) and the US (which are still awaiting ratification). FTA negotiations with the UEU, Canada, India, Mexico, and Japan are also underway.

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Korea is an ancient civilisation. It developed from walled-town states and larger kingdoms and became united in the 7th century. After being 'opened' by Japan in 1876, China, Japan and Russia competed for influence until Japan annexed the country in 1910. The end of the Second World War freed Korea from 35 years of Japanese rule but the country divided into US and Soviet occupation zones along the 38th Parallel. This then acquired semi-permanent status with the onset of the Cold War. The Republic of Korea (ROK) was founded in the south on 15 August 1948 and the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) in the north on 9 September the same year.

On 25 June 1950 the DPRK invaded the ROK and overran most of the country. A United Nations Command (UNC) was established with 16 members under UN Security Council resolutions to assist the ROK. After the successful defence of a 'perimeter' near the south-east city of Pusan and US landings at Inchon, near Seoul in September, UN and ROK forces beat DPRK forces back north, almost to the Chinese border. Chinese forces entered the war in November 1950 and the battle line was again pushed south of Seoul before UN and ROK forces held, then pushed Chinese and DPRK forces back to near the 38th Parallel. The war devastated the peninsula. Seoul changed hands four times and was reduced to rubble. Because of its air supremacy, the UNC was able to destroy almost every building of importance in the north. Over 1 million died on each side. DPRK losses were the greater. An armistice was signed between the DPRK/China and UNC on 27 July 1953. The ROK refused to sign but agreed to abide by its terms.

For over three decades, the ROK was led by conservative dictators who were vehemently anti-Communist and, because of this, restricted political rights. The first President, Syngman Rhee made full use of his authority, even revising the Constitution so that he could stay in power until forced to step down after a student uprising in 1960. General Park Chung-hee staged a military coup in 1961 and remained in office until assassinated in October 1979. Chun Doo-hwan, another general, assumed power the following year after martial law was declared.

Park's policies did little for political development but they encouraged economic development through promoting business conglomerates. Rapid economic growth raised peoples’ expectations and led to the development of a democratisation movement that could no longer be ignored by the Government by the mid-1980s. Faced with this and increased international attention in the run up to the 1988 Seoul Olympics, Chun’s chosen successor, former general Roh Tae-woo, had to stand for election. Because of splits within the Opposition, he was elected and took office in 1988. This started the development of a strong democracy with his successors being:
- Kim Young-sam, a conservative civilian;
- Kim Dae-jung, a former dissident who had become part of the establishment;
- Roh Moo-hyun, a former civil rights lawyer who had not even been to university; and
- Lee Myung-bak, who had to work his way through university and went on to become a successful business leader.

The economy has continued to grow under these Presidents who have increasingly had to face the problems of a maturing, rather than a developing, economy. BBC News Country Timeline: The Republic of Korea (

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As a result of the Korean War, the ROK had strong links with Western countries, especially the US, and competed with the DPRK for formal links with non-aligned states. However, from around the time of the Seoul Olympics in 1988, the ROK also pursued formal links with the Communist bloc under President Roh Tae-woo's 'Northern Policy'. By the early 1990s, it had established diplomatic relations with most of the members of the former Communist bloc and had even developed thriving commercial relations with China, the DPRK's closest ally. As the ROK's economy grew, it became more active in multilateral fora: joining the UN in 1991 (concurrent with DPRK) and OECD in 1997, and hosting the third Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM) in October 2000, an APEC Summit in 2005 and the G20 Summit in November 2010.

In recent years the ROK has played a greater role on the international stage. At one stage it was the third largest contributor of troops to the coalition in Iraq. Korea currently has about 1,300 military operating in 16 countries although the most significant deployments are to UNIFIL in Lebanon, anti-piracy operations off Somalia, PKO and reconstruction in Haiti and 270 troops, mainly protecting ROK members of a Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) in Afghanistan.

Inter-Korean relations

With the Korean War having been so bitterly fought, tension between DPRK and ROK remained high even after 1953. There were numerous armed clashes but, with so many families separated by Korea's division, the national dream of Korean reunification remained. In 1960, DPRK leader, Kim Il Sung, proposed pursuing reunification through confederation between equals, similar to China's 'one country, two systems', and, with minor refinements, this policy remains in place. In the early 1970s, the Koreas opened a Red Cross dialogue followed by political talks that produced the Joint Communiqué of July 1972 in which the ROK and DPRK agreed to work for peaceful reunification. But the militaries continue to face off against each other along the DMZ and naval clashes ocurred as recently as 1999 and 2002.After his inauguration in 1998, ROK President Kim Dae-jung decided to pursue dialogue and co-operation with the DPPK under his 'Sunshine Policy'. This aimed to reduce tension on the peninsula and encourage inter-Korean co-operation. This led to a Summit in Pyongyang between both leaders on 12-15 June 2000. This concluded with the 15 June Joint Declaration, in which the two sides agreed five common goals:

To work independently for national unification;

-- To recognise the common elements in the two sides' proposals for federation-confederation;

-- To co-operate to promote a balanced national economy;

-- To promote exchanges and co-operation; and

-- To work towards the settlement of some humanitarian issues by 15 August 2000.

Post-Summit, numerous meetings and Ministerial-level talks resulted in rapid growth in all forms of co-operation, including the re-connection of North-South rail links which are used on a daily basis on the east coast.

Progress in the inter-Korean dialogue slowed after the US presidential elections in 2000, with the DPRK questioning the Bush Administration’s cautious approach. President Bush’s ‘axis of evil’ speech in January 2002 provoked further DPRK response with the DPRK suspending contacts with the ROK shortly after. These were fairly rapidly resumed.

On 29 June 2002 a naval skirmish occurred between the two parties, which resulted in the ROK losing a naval vessel and casualties on both sides. A subsequent investigation by the UN Military Armistice Commission considered the DPRK to have provoked the incident. On 25 July, the DPRK expressed regret for the incident and, during the following three months, there appeared to be a significant reduction of tension on the Korean Peninsula.

But, these improving relations suffered a major setback when the DPRK, in October 2002, admitted to the visiting US Assistant Secretary James Kelly that it had a covert nuclear weapons programme.

On 12 February 2003, the IAEA found the DPRK in breach of nuclear safeguards agreements and adopted a second resolution, referring the matter to the UN Security Council. Later that month, the ROK and the US announced their plans to hold their annual joint military exercises in March, to which the DPRK responded with aggressive rhetoric. On 24 February and again on 10 March, the DPRK fired shore-to-ship missiles into the sea between the ROK and Japan. But they were not ballistic missiles and the international reaction was low-key.

Following his inauguration on 25 February 2003, the ROK President Roh Moo-hyun publicly announced his policy towards the DPRK. As under the previous administration's 'Sunshine Policy', the focus would be on peace and prosperity for the Korean Peninsula and the East Asian region. In a joint declaration following the US/ROK summit in May, President Roh stated that future inter-Korean exchanges and co-operation would be conducted in light of developments on the DPRK nuclear issue. The DPRK responded by calling into question the ROK’s commitment to the 15th June Declaration and stating that, 'immeasurable negative consequences' would befall the South if it persisted in raising the nuclear issue.

The ROK did not participate in trilateral talks held in April 2003 between the US, China and the DPRK in Beijing, to discuss the nuclear issue. However they participated in a round of Six-Party Talks (also including the DPRK, Japan, Russia, China and the US) in August 2003. These Talks reconvened in February and again in June 2004 but talks scheduled for September did not take place due to the North’s reluctance to participate, citing US hostile policies as the cause. In January 2005, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice labelled the DPRK an ‘outpost of tyranny’ alongside Iran, Cuba, Burma, Belarus and Zimbabwe during her confirmation hearing. On 10 February 2005, the DPRK responded by suspending its participation in the talks “indefinitely” asserting again that it had built nuclear weapons for self-defence. However the DPRK did agree to return to a fourth round of talks, with a long recess, in July – September 2005. This produced a “statement of principles”, the 19 September Joint Statement, in which all parties agreed to work through a series of steps towards a nuclear free Korean peninsula. Immediately after the agreement, the DPRK and US issued statements that showed that they had a very different understanding of the order in which the steps would be implemented. A fifth round was convened in November, but broke up amid rancour and the talks remained suspended for over a year, with the DPRK citing US ‘financial sanctions’ for its refusal to discuss implementation of the Joint Statement.In late October 2006, after trilateral discussions with the US and China in Beijing, DPRK announced it would return to the Six Party Talks. But its belated decision to return followed two major escalatory acts in the second half of 2006. On 5 July, DPRK test-fired seven ballistic missiles of various types and ranges, including the long-range Taepodong-II, believed capable of reaching parts of the United States, but which failed shortly into its maiden flight. The launches met widespread international condemnation as a destabilising development for regional security and beyond. The UN Security Council adopted Resolution 1695 on 15 July 2006 condemning the launches. It further demanded that DPRK halt all activities related to its ballistic missile programme and re-affirm its 1999 moratorium on flight-testing.

On 9 October 2006 DPRK announced that it had conducted an underground nuclear explosive test in the country’s northeast. While the regime claimed this as a complete success, the size of the explosion was comparatively small and could have been a partial failure. The test met concerted and prompt international opposition, expressed through UN Security Council Resolution 1718, adopted unanimously on 15 October. Under Chapter VII of the UN Charter, the resolution mandated co-operative action by states to prevent the provision of nuclear technology, large-scale weapons and luxury goods to DPRK. It further imposed an asset freeze and travel ban on persons related to DPRK’s nuclear-weapon programme and permitted the inspection of cargo. DPRK’s Ambassador to the UN responded by deriding the resolution as 'gangster-like' while reiterating that DPRK’s intention to denuclearize the Korean peninsula through dialogue and negotiation remained unchanged.

The fifth round of Six-Party Talks on 8-13 February 2007 finished with the Parties renewed their commitment to the 19 September Joint Statement of 19 September 2005 and a “first phase” action agreement. Specifically, the DPRK agreed to shut down its Yongbyon nuclear facility and allow inspections by IAEA personnel. In return, the other Parties agreed to provide economic, energy and humanitarian assistance to the DPRK, including an initial shipment of 50,000 tons of heavy fuel oil (HFO).The Agreement established 5 Working Groups to plan implementation of the Joint Statement - focusing on DPRK-US relations, DPRK-Japan relations, denuclearisation, economy and energy co-operation and Northeast Asia Peace and Security Mechanism.

The Working Groups met as scheduled but the shutdown of the Yongbyon facility and shipment of oil were delayed due to problems in arranging for the transfer of DPRK funds that had been frozen in a bank in Macau. This problem was not fully resolved until mid-June 2007, when the DPRK invited IAEA inspectors who were able to verify that the nuclear facility was shut down on 16 July 2007, just after the first shipment of oil was delivered by the Republic of Korea. A further round of Six Party Talks in Beijing agreed to a “second phase” action agreement on 3 October 2007. Under this the DPRK was to disable all existing nuclear facilities - three major ones by the end of this year - and to provide, in the same timeframe, a complete declaration of all its nuclear programmes and facilities. The DPRK also reaffirmed its commitment not to transfer nuclear materials, technology, or know-how. In return, it was to get the balance of 1 million tons of HFO, or its equivalent, and the prospect of further progress on normalisation of relations with the US and Japan.

A further significant agreement development in inter-Korean relations was the Inter-Korean Summit that took place in Pyongyang on 2-4 October 2007 - the first since 2000 and only the second ever. The two sides agreed on the need to move towards a peace treaty to end the Korean War, and on expanded economic co-operation. There were a range of follow-up meetings to thrash out the detail although the Roh Administration had little time to implement these agreements. The Six-Party Talks also hit difficulties with the US dissatisfied with the DPRK declaration of its nuclear programmes and the DPRK complaining of other Parties were not living up to their commitments.

During his successful campaign for the presidential election on 19 December 2007, Lee Myung-bak suggested that his policy towards the DPRK would stress reciprocity and that, if the DPRK went ahead with denuclearisation, he would push a plan to increase per capita GNP there to $3,000 (from about $1,900). After his inauguration on 25 February 2008, President Lee appointed several senior officials who had been involved in previous administrations’ engagement with the DPRK and it look as if there would be no major change in policy. However, the DPRK interpreted some statements made by the new Administrations leaders in the worst possible way and also condemned the ROK for voting for a resolution on the DPRK at the UN Human Rights Council in March. From April, the DPRK media started to criticise President Lee in vehement terms and, despite the ROK choosing not to respond to these attacks and wait for the DPRK to reengage, these continued for over a year.

Recent Developments

Regional tensions heightened following the UN Security Council’s condemnation of the attempted satellite launch in breach of UN Security Council Resolution 1718 by the DPRK on 5 April 2009. In response, the DPRK withdrew from the Six Party Talks and threatened a further nuclear test and ballistic missile tests. On 25 May 2009, the DPRK announced that it had carried out an underground nuclear test and a number of short range missile test-launches. This resulted in another UN Security Council Resolution, 1784, that is aimed at restricting DPRK WMD-related programmes and proliferation activity. The DPRK felt the effect of sanctions introduced with this resolution because they are more strictly enforced. However, despite continuous and almost unanimous pressure from the international community, it is refusing to return to the Six-Party Talks. It is instead demanding that the sanctions are eased and that work start on replacing the Korean War armistice with a peace treaty. It made some positive signals, engaging with the ROK in a number of fields, although it also continued to make threats. On 26 March 2010, the ROK navy corvette Cheonan sank in the West Sea. An investigation in which the UK took part found that the sinking was caused by a DPRK torpedo although DPRK denied any involvement. The ROK called for the DPRK to apologise and guarantee that such an incident will not reoccur. The incident was referred to the UN Security Council, which condemned the sinking in a Presidential Statement in July. The ROK has continued to provide a limited amount of humanitarian assistance and the two Koreas have agreed to hold family reunions between 30 October and 5 November. Representatives from the members of the Six-Party Talks have also undertaken some shuttle diplomacy recently. But the ROK, US and Japan are also all waiting for the DPRK to indicate that it is ready to constructively engage in the Six-Party Talks.

ROK's relations with the USA

Since the Korean War, the ROK's most important relationship has been with the United States. As well as defending it militarily, the USA was the major provider of economic assistance to the ROK and was the ROK's largest trading partner. ROK forces fought alongside US forces during the Vietnam War. Although the US was originally the dominant partner in the relationship, as the Korean economy grew the relationship became more balanced. Due to perceived US dominance and Korean national pride, there are sometimes signs of friction that have, at times, been exploited by more radical elements. But relations remained close, involving policy co-ordination, especially on DPRK, and the ROK actively supported the US war against terrorism, despatching the third-largest international troop contingent to Iraq.

During the 2002 presidential election campaign, however, a wave of anti-Americanism swept through the ROK. Many people called for a revision of the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) which regulates the legal status of US forces stationed in Korea.

After the victory of Roh Moo-hyun, friction between the two countries was claimed by critics of his Administration to represent a weakening of the alliance. In June 2004, the US declared its intention by end-2005 to reduce by one third its 37,000 troops stationed in the ROK. The remaining US forces were also be moved further south from the DMZ). But at regular Summit meetings, the two Presidents reconfirmed that the alliance was strong. The two sides also managed to conclude agreements on a range of outstanding issues including the return of wartime operational control to the ROK military, the relocation of the US Embassy and a Free Trade Agreement.After his inauguration in February 2008, President Lee Myung-bak committed himself to restoring strong relations with the US. At an April 2008 Summit at Camp David, the first for an ROK president, Presidents Lee and Bush agreed to strengthen the two countries’ alliance in the military, economic, diplomatic, political and cultural sectors. President Bush also accepted an invitation to visit the ROK in July 2008. The strength of the relationship has been reconfirmed yet again with President Obama- the two presidents having already met five times.

ROK's relations with Russia

After the Seoul Olympics, the ROK and Soviet Union established trade offices in each other's capitals and then established full diplomatic relations in September 1990. With the ROK's lack of resources and the undeveloped Soviet Far East, the two economies seem complementary but, owing to an accumulation of trade debts by the Soviet/Russian side, relations developed only slowly. But at Summit talks on 10 September, Presidents Lee and Medvedev agreed to upgrade the strategic partnership between the two countries and that bilateral cooperation on the development of Siberian and modernization of the Russian economy will be of mutual interest.

ROK's relations with China

Commercial relations with China developed at a relatively early stage mainly because of easier communications but also because over 2 million ethnic Koreans are living there. Although it was the DPRK's closest ally, China established diplomatic relations with the ROK in August 1992 and commercial links between the two countries have continued to thrive. China has become the ROK’s largest trading partner and a major destination for ROK investment. Increased interest in China has also led to a rapid rise in the number of Korean children learning Chinese with it now being the second most widely studied foreign language, after English.President Lee wanted to strengthen ROK-China relations by holding regular Summit and held the first of six meetings so far during his State Visit to China on 27-30 May 2008. The Chinese Premier, Vice-President and President have all visited President Lee in Korea.

ROK's relations with Japan

Despite the normalisation of relations in 1965, links with Japan have remained strained because of memories of the colonial period and, until 1998, there were formal restrictions on Japanese exports to the ROK. Relations warmed after a visit to Tokyo by President Kim Dae-jung in October 1998 with the restrictions being steadily lifted. But, when the ROK what it perceived to be a resurgence of Japanese nationalism in mid-2001, relations cooled again. ROK civic groups started to boycott links with Japan. The public also protested against, and called for a halt to Japanese Prime Minister Koizumi's visits to the Yasukuni shrine, which commemorates Japanese war dead, including some 'Class-A' war criminals from the Second World War. The two countries worked together to ensure the success of the World Cup, which took place in June 2002, and when President Roh Moo-hyun visited Japan in June 2003, it seemed that relations would continue to improve with a plan to celebrate 2005 as the Korea-Japan Friendship Year. But relations soured again following a number of Japanese actions, including Prime Minister Koizumi’s continued visits to Yasukuni, revisions of Japanese history textbooks that seemed to whitewash the severity of Japan's colonisation and a push by Japan of its claim to the Tokdo Islets. President Roh responded by refusing to hold regular Summit meetings with Prime Minister Koizumi although there was a Summit soon after Prime Minister Abe took office in Tokyo.President Lee stated that he would focus on a forward-looking relationship with Japan, rather than the past, before taking up office. The then Prime Minister Fukuda attended his inauguration ceremony. The two leaders met immediately after this and agreed to resume regular Summits. President Lee followed up on this by visiting Tokyo on 20-21 April 2008 to meet the new Japanese Prime Minister Taro Aso. The President has held a further nine meetings with the Japanese Prime Minister since then with the latest being with Prime Minister Kan on the margins of the ASEM meeting in Brussels in October 2010.

ROK, Japan and China building trilateral relationship

In May 2010 the three Heads of State agreed to regularise their Summit meetings and adopted a '3 Countries Cooperation Vision 2020' programme to strengthen their cooperation for the next 10 years. They also agreed to set up a standing secretarial office in Seoul in 2011 to boost trilateral cooperation in economics, culture and education. ROK hopes this agreement will be a cornerstone to developing trilateral relations into a regional organisation like ASEAN or eventually even a common market, but there is considerable work to be done.

ROK's relations with the UK

The UK recognised the ROK when it was founded in 1948 and was quick to support UN actions on the peninsula during the Korean War. The UK also played a full part in the ROK's reconstruction and British know-how helped in the development of the shipbuilding and automotive industries. The UK and ROK have had full diplomatic relations since 1957. The strength of the relationship was reflected in the number of high-level visits. Kim Dae-jung's first overseas visit as President was to London in April 1998 to attend the ASEM II Summit, and he visited again in 2001. HM The Queen made a State Visit to the ROK in April 1999 and the Duke of York visited in 2001 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the UK involvement in the Korean War, again in November 2005 and September 2008 to promote British business.

President Roh and the First Lady visited the UK in December 2004 at the invitation of HM The Queen - the first State Visit to the UK by a Korean President. President Roh’s programme included substantive talks with the Prime Minister, a High Technology Forum, and banquets at Buckingham Palace and Guildhall. The visit was considered to be a great success.

Recent Ministerial visits have included, Bill Rammell as Minister of State for Foreign Affairs in March 2009; Lord Mandelson, as Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills, on 6-8 October 2009; Andrew Robathan, a Defence Minister on 27-30 September; and Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne on 4-5 June and 22-23 October.

President Lee Myung-bak visited the UK in March 2009. The Korean Vice Minister of Defence Chang Soo Man visited the UK on 19-22 January 2010.

There are strong commercial links between the two countries. Although the financial crisis hit British exports to Korea hard and much ROK investment in the UK was put on hold, it led to an increase in British investment in the ROK. (See trade and investment links with the UK, below.)

Cultural and education links with the UK are also thriving. The number of Korean students currently studying in the UK is approximately 20,000. The British Council has been in Seoul since 1973, and now receives over 700 visitors a day, with unprecedented interest in its services.

Diplomatic representation

The British Ambassador to the ROK is Mr Martin Uden (since 15 February 2008).

The ROK Ambassador to the UK is Mr Choo Kyu-ho (since 19 February 2010).

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The Republic of Korea (ROK) forms the southern half of the Korean peninsula that lies between China and Japan, and so is often referred to as South Korea. Its capital city, Seoul, is in the north-west. The ROK has a land area about the same size as Wales and Scotland combined. The Demilitarised Zone (DMZ), that separates the ROK from the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) to the north, is a 250-mile long strip of land, running from west to east, close to the 38th Parallel.

Mountains or upland account for 70% of the ROK (compared to 80% in the DPRK). The ROK has relatively few natural resources but, having more cultivable land, warmer weather and more rain than the DPRK, its agricultural sector is relatively productive.

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Trade and investment with the UK

The UK enjoys a very good trading relationship with the ROK. It was the 26th largest export destination for UK goods in 2009. UK Trade and Investment recently identified the following sectors ar offering the best opportunities for British firms: automotive, consumer products, design, education, environment, financial services and ICT, life sciences and shipbuilding. The UK is the ROK's third largest trading partner. China, Japan and the US are its major partners overall.

Restructuring has opened up new opportunities for British companies. The UK was one of the first countries to respond to President Kim Dae-jung's call for more foreign investment and Standard Chartered Bank, Tesco, ICL, and Diageo are among the larger companies to have invested in ROK. Moves towards privatisation have created opportunities for British advisers and companies involved in financial services such as project finance, asset management and life assurance. British companies have been involved in many large infrastructure projects including the new international airport at Inchon, and the high-speed Seoul-Pusan rail-link. English language training is a key growth area.

Restructuring has opened up new opportunities for British companies. The UK was one of the first countries to respond to President Kim Dae-jung's call for more foreign investment and Standard Chartered Bank, Tesco, ICL, and Allied Domecq are among the larger companies to have invested in ROK. Moves towards privatisation have created opportunities for British advisers and companies involved in financial services such as project finance, asset management and life assurance. British companies have been involved in many large infrastructure projects including the new international airport at Inchon, and the high-speed Seoul-Pusan rail-link. English language training is a key growth area.

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The ROK operates under a presidential system. Several of its early Presidents managed to establish dictatorships, some military but waves of civil unrest eventually led to the first real democratic elections in 1987. With several constitutional amendments, there has been a gradual shift of power away from the President to the National Assembly.

The President, and Head of State, is elected by popular vote for a single non-renewable five-year term. He appoints a Prime Minister who advises him on the appointment of Ministers. The current President, Lee Myung-bak, was elected in December 2007 and inaugurated on 25 February 2008. The President nominates the Prime Minister although the National Assembly must endorse the appointment. The President appoints Ministers on the Prime Minister's recommendation. President Lee’s nomination of judge Kim Hwang-sik as Prime Minister was approved by the National Assembly on 1 October 2010.

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The Human Rights situation in the Republic of Korea has radically improved in parallel with the democratisation process. Much of this is the legacy of pro-democracy activist Kim Dae-jung (President 1998 – 2003), whose work was recognised with a Nobel Peace Prize in 2000. With the creation of the National Human Rights Council of Korea (NHRCK) in 2001, adoption of UN protocols, domestic legislation and the formation of a five year National Action Plan (NAP), the Republic of Korea had established a world-class framework for the protection of human rights. In January 2007, renowned Korean human rights expert, Ms Kang Kyung-hwa, was appointed Deputy High Commissioner to the UNHCR and the country underwent a universal periodic review of its human rights performance in spring 2008. But some recent developments, including a major reduction in the Human Rights Commission’s budget, have led to concerns about the country losing its model status.

Death penalty: no sentence has been carried out since 1997 and at the end of 2007 the Republic of Korea was awarded ‘Abolitionist in Practice’ by Amnesty international. Bills to abolish the death penalty have been introduced to the 15th 16th and 17th terms of the National Assembly but lapsed when the terms ended. In a closely split decision, the Constitutional Court ruled in February 2010 that the death penalty is constitutional. There is pressure for its use to be resumed, with President Lee publicly speaking in favour of it during his election campaign and some in his party demanding its use after a particularly heinous recent murder. It is therefore important that the UK, with its EU partners, continues to push for abolition.

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Last Updated: December 2010

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