South Korea Country Overview

By | October 24, 2021

South Korea, officially the Republic of Korea, is a presidential republic in East Asia with the ten million metropolis Seoul as its capital. The state occupies the southern part of the Korean peninsula, which since the end of the Korean War (1950-53) has been divided around the 38th parallel by a strongly fortified line of demarcation with North Korea.

The country has a coastline of around 2400 km with around 3500 islands in the south and west. On the east coast, the Taebaek Mountains drop steeply to the Sea of ​​Japan. There and in the adjacent Seobaek Mountains to the southwest, several large rivers arise which, in addition to the Nakdonggang, flow into the Yellow Sea. The coastal lowlands in the west with the capital and the basin landscapes in the south are the main settlement areas. Except for the subtropical south with the island of Jeju, the climate is cool-temperate. Cold, dry winters are opposed to hot and humid summers.

The population consists almost entirely of Koreans. Society is shaped by the value system of Confucianism. She is considered to be very educational and performance-oriented. More than half of South Koreans do not associate themselves with any religion. South Korea has one of the lowest birth rates in the world. In an Asian comparison, Christian denominations are strongly anchored.

Korea looks back on a long national tradition with first kingdoms in pre-Christian times. Culturally, Chinese influences predominated until the 19th century. In the western-oriented consumer society, South Korean pop music, film culture and K-fashion have been setting strong international accents since the 1990s.

Since the 1960s, South Korea has developed from an agricultural country to an industrial nation. The economy is export-oriented. The main pillars are information technology, telecommunications and entertainment electronics as well as shipbuilding and automobile production. Large, family-run large companies, the Chaebol, continue to have great influence despite splits and state deregulation. Small farms dominate in agriculture. Rice is grown on half of the arable land.

South Korea was an authoritarian dictatorship after the Korean War and became a presidential democracy with the 1987 constitution. The party system is unstable, with two large parties usually dominating. The linchpin of foreign policy is the relationship with North Korea. The most important ally is the USA, which also has armed forces stationed in South Korea. Free trade agreements exist with the USA, the EU and the People’s Republic of China, the most important trading partners. There are diplomatic conflicts with Japan over sovereign rights in the Sea of ​​Japan and over Japan’s responsibility as a colonial power (1910–45).


South Korea is surrounded by the sea on three sides: to the east by the Yellow Sea, to the south by the Korean Strait and to the east by the Sea of Japan. The partly very rugged Taebaek Mountains (up to 1708 m) run along the east coast. It drops steeply to the Sea of ​​Japan and merges to the west into a mountain and then hilly coastal lowland. The Seobaek Mountains branches off in a south-westerly direction. The Jiri massif (up to 1915 m) forms its southern end. Several large rivers have their source in the Taebaek Mountains: Bukhhangang and Namhangang flow to the west and unite to form the Hangang in front of Seoul. Its lower course forms the border with North Korea. The Nakdonggang flows to the south, the longest river in the country at 525 km. It flows into a delta west of Busan.

In the south and west, bays reach far into the country. The coast in the south consists of “drowned” river valleys that were flooded by sea water after the last ice age (ria). Today there are numerous islands in front of it. The island of Jeju is 85 km off the coast with the extinct Hallasan volcano, the highest mountain in South Korea (1950 m). The volcanic landscape with ash cones, basalt columns and lava caves is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. On the west coast the tidal range is sometimes more than 9 m (tides). The mudflats south of Gunsan were bordered by a dam in 2006 and thereby destroyed.

Climate and vegetation

The climate in South Korea is predominantly cool-temperate and subtropical on the south coast. The winters are cold and dry, but milder than in North Korea. In January, the average temperature in Seoul is -5 ° C. Around half of the precipitation, an annual average of 1300 mm, falls in summer when the hot and humid monsoon blows from the west. Precipitation decreases towards the east. In spring, the west wind brings fine sand from the deserts of China and Mongolia with high pollution. In summer and early autumn, typhoons can cause flooding.

Two thirds of the country are forested. The original vegetation includes deciduous forests with maple, birch, beech, oak and elm as well as bamboo. Conifers grow above 1100–1300 m, especially spruce, larch and Korean fir. Evergreen laurel forest and palm trees thrive in the south. Due to clearing and logging, the primary forest has largely given way to secondary forest.


There is general compulsory schooling from 6 to 15 years of age. According to topschoolsintheusa, the education system is divided into a six-year primary level, a three-year lower and a three-year higher secondary level. In addition to the general higher education schools, higher vocational schools and certain technical schools (e.g. for the arts) are offered. The educational participation is very high overall, around 80% of the students attend a higher school. There are around 175 universities and colleges in the tertiary sector. Seoul National University (founded in 1924) is considered the most prestigious university in the country.


The media landscape is diverse, but it is determined by a few large companies, especially in the television sector. Digital and online media are used intensively. Security laws partially restrict reporting.

Press: There are around 100 daily newspapers. The largest are the capital papers “Chosŏn Ilbo”, “Dong-a Ilbo”, “Hankook Ilbo”, “Hangyore”, “Joong-ang Ilbo”, “Munhwa Ilbo” and “Seoul Shinmun”, the oldest daily newspaper in Korea (founded in 1904), as well as the English-language “The Korea Times”, “The Korea Herald” and “Korea Joong-ang Daily”.

News agency: Yonhap News Agency (founded in 1980, officially).

Broadcasting: The public service Korean Broadcasting System (KBS) broadcasts seven radio and nine television programs; the international service “KBS World Radio” broadcasts in ten languages. The educational programs of the also public law »EBS« are a special feature. The largest private broadcasters are operated by Munhwa Broadcasting Corporation (MBC) and SBS. Cable television is widespread. There are around 200 radio and 100 television stations in total.

South Korea Country Overview