South Korea (Geography)
Large parts of the landscape are hilly and mountainous, and only approximately one-fifth can be cultivated. The soil is generally not very fertile and cultivation requires fertilization. To the NE, the Taebaek Mountains stretch along the coast, while the Sobaek Mountains meander to the SW, shielding the Kyongsang provinces from the rest of the country; however, none of the mountains are high (below 2000 m).
The climate is generally temperate, but subtropical farthest south. Korea is located in the monsoon region, and during the hot summer period, a lot of rain falls. On the other hand, the winters are characterized by the mainland climate over Asia and are cold and rather dry. For culture and traditions of South Korea, please check animalerts.
South Korea is smaller than North Korea, but its population is twice as large. With a population density of 472 residents per km2, it is one of the most densely populated countries in the world. In connection with the rapid economic development, there has been a drastic change in the demographics. The health improvements have led to a large decrease in mortality, and then also the frequency of births has decreased; overall, this has meant that the annual population growth fell from approximately 3% in 1960 to approximately 1% from the mid-1980’s. At the same time, there has been a significant relocation to the cities, and the capital Seoul (10.6 million) is now among the largest in the world. Here and in several other large cities, the influx has led to severe housing shortages.
- Countryaah: Do you know how many people there are in South Korea? Check this site to see population pyramid and resident density about this country.
Although agriculture in the 1960’s employed two-thirds of the South Korean population, today industry and fisheries are the country’s largest occupations. South Korea has focused on the automotive and electronics industry and reaps great recognition for their products internationally.
South Korea’s transformation process has been driven by industrialization and urbanization at the expense of agriculture, yet the changes here have had a major impact on overall development. With the partition of Korea in 1948, the peninsula came to consist of a mineral-rich North Korea and a predominantly agricultural South Korea; in the early 1960’s was approximately two thirds of the agricultural workforce. With the land reforms of 1947-48, the attachment system was abolished, and small family-owned farms became the backbone of agriculture. With US assistance, an improvement in farming and cultivation methods was implemented. The early land reforms also led to the elimination of the strong landowner class in the country, thus making room for a modern-minded bourgeoisie with the courage of capitalist development. At the same time, mechanization and rationalization freed up labor for the expanding urban industries, and in 1998 only 12% of the labor force was employed in agriculture. The development also meant that rural areas had difficulty keeping up with the general increase in income, and price support schemes and import restrictions were introduced to protect the industry. Despite these initiatives and rising productivity, South Korea has become one of the world’s largest food importers; with low prices on the world market, however, this can not be said to be any hindrance.
Off the Korean shores, cold and warm ocean currents meet, and the country has significant fishing resources. The fishery was originally coastal fishing intended for the local market, but during the 1970’s an extensive high seas fishery was developed and later various forms of aquaculture were introduced. South Korea is now among the world’s 5-7 most important fishing nations and, with licenses and agreements, has fishing interests everywhere on the seas.
Mining has never played a major role, although the coal deposits were used for electricity production for a period. Around 2000, the energy supply is mainly based on imported oil and nuclear power. In 1997, the country had a total of 11 reactors in operation with a total capacity of 9120 MW, seven plants were under construction, and a further 11 were planned. South Korea is one of the countries in the world that invests most in non-power.
The industry grew remarkably fast from the 1960’s to the 1980’s. The beginning was the creation of a successful light industry; the export of products from here was used to import machinery and technology for the construction of the heavy industry, which became the cornerstone of economic growth. South Korea became a NIC country, and companies gradually moved into increasingly capital- and later technology-intensive industries. By the 1970’s, South Korea had become one of the world’s leading manufacturers of textiles; in the same decade there was a forced expansion of heavy industry and chemical industry. In Pohang on the east coast, the state invested in what was to become one of the world’s largest integrated steel plants; Pohang Iron and Steel Co.produced steel as cheaply as the Japanese works and far cheaper than the American ones. With technological support from outside (including from B&W), a shipyard industry was built at the same time with a center in Ulsan south of Pohang. Throughout the 1990’s, Japan and South Korea shifted to be the leading shipbuilding nation in the world. In the early 1980’s, the country led by Hyundai continued into the automotive industry, and a decade later South Korea was among the top five automakers. At the same time, electronics replaced textiles as the most important export product. In the beginning, it was mainly radios and television sets and other consumables, but soon also computers and a major investment in semiconductor electronics. Around 2000, the country is among the world’s largest manufacturers of video players, microwave ovens, fax machines, video tapes, televisions and telephones. Slowly, but surely Korean brand names, Samsung, gained international recognition.
The rather unique industrial success is due to a number of factors. The light industry had access to an educated and productive workforce, especially women, who consistently received a wage that was only half that of men. Under the dictatorial regimes of Park Chung-Hees and Chun Doo-Hwan (b. 1931), unions were oppressed, and wage growth did not keep pace with productivity. In the beginning, the electronics industry was dominated by foreign capital, but the continued expansion, also in heavy industry, was carried out by large conglomerates, chaebols, led by Hyundai, Daewoo and Samsung. The targeted investment in new and more demanding production areas was managed through a command capitalist system built by Park Chung-Hee. The state ensured that the large companies received favorable subsidies and conditions (especially the low wages), temporary protection against foreign competition and almost a monopoly on the growing domestic market. In return for this generosity, significant performance demands were made, not least demands that a growing part of the production should be exported. As far back as the 1990’s, the state had control over the financial sector, and since the expansion took place through a mixture of domestic savings and large foreign loans, the state was a centrally located and powerful institution.
The family-owned conglomerates grew ever larger. Deliveries in connection with the Vietnam War and a large-scale commitment to infrastructure construction in the Middle East were important milestones, and the simultaneous expansion of heavy industry and infrastructure in South Korea itself created one of the world’s most concentrated economies. The limited number of companies in each industry made it possible to take advantage of economies of scale, and at the same time the export requirement made it necessary to develop competitive products. The approach was an imitation of the Japanese development, but the Korean companies specialized especially in rapid improvements in production, where the Japanese focused on the development of mini and micro versions of the devices. The project was possible because the country had a trained and disciplined workforce,
The Korean model was bold and in 2000 made South Korea the world’s eleventh largest industrial nation, but at the same time it was risky and quite inflexible. The focus on the large units blocked the growth of small and medium-sized enterprises as well as a more flexible production structure (such as in Taiwan). Furthermore, from the end of the 1980’s, the state lost its grip on development. South Korea was embroiled in the 1997-98 Asian financial crisis, which led to factory closures and high unemployment, and the government under Kim Dae-Jung initiated a major restructuring with greater flexibility and better conditions for smaller companies. Since then, South Korea’s economy is growing again.
South Korea has developed significant tourism since 1980. An important milestone was the 1988 Summer Olympics in Seoul, and by 1999 the number of visitors had risen to 4.6 million. South Korea offers magnificent scenery. Many tourists visit the country’s nature parks; Among other things, is Cheju-do in Tsushima Strait a very popular island. Many also visit the archeological sites, The Silla royal tombs in Kyongju.
South Korea’s rapid industrialization and urbanization have put a heavy strain on the environment. Many rivers and streams are polluted, which is a major problem, as half of the drinking water supply comes from rivers and lakes. A major phenol pollution of the Nakdong River (1991) helped to focus on drinking water quality. Many of the rivers flow into the Yellow Sea, and the coastal areas near the estuaries and major ports on the west coast are highly polluted. The large tidal differences have created a unique animal and plant life in the wetlands, but they are threatened by both pollution and land reclamation projects. Air quality over Seoul has been improved through a partial ban on coal burning in favor of low-sulfur fuel oil, but exhaust from cars and factory fumes has pulled the other way. The ecosystem in mountain areas is threatened by acid rain, which originates from sulfur dioxide, which is transferred from China in winter.