South Korea History

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South Korea History Empty South Korea History

Post  Princess_Louis on Tue Apr 19, 2011 2:25 pm

The first civilization in Korea was centered on the state of Choson which developed in the northwest corner of the peninsula in the second century BC. Choson steadily expanded until it came up against the more advanced Yen, a feudal empire which governed much of northern China. At the beginning of the first century BC, China, now ruled by the Han dynasty, attacked and destroyed Choson and governed the northern part of the peninsula for the next 400 years. To the south, a number of independent rival kingdoms evolved, of which the most important was the Silla in the southeast. In alliance with the Chinese Tang dynasty, which had taken over in northern China in AD 618, the Silla defeated their competitors and created a single political entity in Korea in AD 668 for the first time.

Around AD 870, a wave of rebellions broke out across Silla-controlled territory: this triggered the gradual disintegration of the Silla empire and a period of chaos in which rival forces struggled for control. The eventual victor in the early tenth century was the Koryo dynasty, once vanquished by the Silla, who allied themselves with the Song dynasty in China. The Koryo emulated the Song in establishing an advanced cultural and technological society (including the invention of printing in 1234, two centuries before its discovery in the West).

More importantly for the fate of the Koryo, the 1230s also saw the Mongol invasion which quickly crushed the Koryo forces and established total domination over the peninsula. It took until the early 14th century, and the assistance of the Chinese Ming dynasty, to recover Korean independence. The Koryo dynasty was then followed in the late 14th century by the Choson who governed Korea until the early years of the 20th century. The early years of the Choson saw Korea enter a period of outstanding cultural and intellectual achievement, especially under the Buddhist King Sejong (1418-50). After Sejong, however, the country entered a period of decline that ended with invasions by the Japanese and then the Chinese Manchu dynasty, which brought Korea under Chinese control. Although the Choson were still formally in control, Korea was effectively a satellite state of China for the next 200 years.

During the 19th century, Korea became a geopolitical pawn in the burgeoning regional competition between China, Japan and the encroaching European powers (plus the USA). After the 1895 Treaty of Shimonoseki, which ended the First Sino-Japanese war, Japan established a firm hegemony over Korea. Over the next 15 years, Korea successively became a protectorate and finally, in 1910, a colony of the Japanese Empire. Korea now entered one of the darkest periods of its history. The deep suspicion which continues to affect Japanese-Korean relations to this day dates from this period.

At the end of World War II, as Japan was stripped of its colonial territories, the Soviets and Americans agreed to divide Korea along latitude 38°N (the 38th parallel). As the Cold War evolved, the Korean border – one of the few direct meeting points between the Soviet and American spheres of influence – became a key flashpoint. Cross-border incursions increased until full-scale war broke out between the two sides in 1950. The three-year war which followed engaged all the major powers and came closer than is often realised to provoking a nuclear conflagration. By 1953, a stalemate had been reached and an armistice was signed (although the war was never officially brought to an end). For the next three decades, locked into opposing Cold War blocs, the two Koreas went their separate ways.

South Korea developed a successful capitalist economy, but failed to develop a political system of comparable sophistication. Until the early 1980s, South Korea was governed by a series of dictatorships, both civilian and military, under which political dissent led to imprisonment. However, at this point, the country’s political leaders, with their powerbase in the monopolistic Democratic Justice Party, realised that some relaxation of the existing tight political control was necessary. The question, as ever, was how far to go and how fast. In 1981, martial law was lifted. Within five years, a powerful parliamentary opposition had emerged in the form of the New Korea Democratic Party (NKDP), led by the veteran dissident Kim Dae-Jung.

The new party complemented the existing extra-parliamentary opposition, which was rooted in the student and trade union movements. Unlike the West where student protest is generally dismissed or ignored by the wider population, South Korea’s student movement, the Chondaehyop, has been widely supported by ordinary people who felt it could articulate their complaints and desires (they had also attracted much public sympathy following the 1980 Kwangju massacre in which 200 protesting students were massacred by the army). The burgeoning labor movement, which had emerged with the country’s rapid industrialization was also making its presence felt. The two have frequently co-ordinated their campaigns.

In 1988, the Government conceded multiparty elections. Against expectations, the Democratic Justice Party managed to hang on to power. In fact, it remained in office for the next nine years. It was not until December 1997 that Kim Dae-Jung, the perennial opposition leader, won the presidential poll (the Democratic Justice Party has changed its name twice – firstly to the Democratic Liberal Party and then to its current title of the Grand National Party. The NKDP also changed its name and is now known as the Millennium Democratic Party).

Kim Dae-Jung’s most serious immediate problem upon taking office was the fall-out from the Asian currency crisis. This caused a sharp recession and eventually required a substantial and humiliating bail-out by the IMF. The Government was obliged to promise to reform South Korea’s creaking financial system and end the incestuous relationship between Government and the chaebol industrial giants who control much of the economy. Whether Kim Dae-Jung can deliver on this remains to be seen, but the electorate was evidently not too unhappy: parliamentary elections in April 2000 delivered a mild endorsement in the form of a small increase in the Millennium Democratic Party’s National Assembly representation. The opposition Grand National Party remains the single largest bloc but, in coalition with the small conservative United Democratic Party and an assortment of independents, the MDP controls the government.

The centerpiece of Kim Dae-Jung’s political program was a firm commitment to improving relations with the North after years of painfully slow diplomatic movement. The historic Pyongyang summit between the leaders of the two countries in June 2000 vindicated his approach and opened a new chapter in relations (see Korea, People’s Democratic Republic section). However, expectations of imminent reunification are certainly premature. Having watched the German unification process very closely, the South Korean Government is aware that reunification would be costly – estimates run as high as US$50 billion annually in the first few years – and difficult given the vast political and psychological gulf between the two Koreas. There are also numerous strategic and regional problems in which the main regional powers – as well as the US – will demand to be involved. In the last few years, every improvement in relations, such as the reuniting of families separated by the 1950s civil war, seems to have been matched by a negative development, such as the July 2002 naval gun battle between vessels from North and South. Kim Dae-Jung is still determined, however, to ensure that this part of his program achieves some tangible success.

In 2002, South Korea’s international profile, as well as national morale, received a boost from co-hosting the World Cup football competition. President Kim Dae-Jung was, however, unable to capitalize upon it as various members of his family became embroiled in a corruption scandal around the same time. The President resigned from the Millennium Democratic Party in order to try and distance it from the scandal, but the move seems to have made little difference to the declining popularity of both party and President. Also in 2002, a new Premier, Kim Suk Soo, took office.

Executive power is vested in the President, who is head of state and is elected for a single five-year term by popular vote. Legislation is the responsibility of the unicameral Kuk Hoe (National Assembly): of the assembly’s 273 members, 227 are elected in single-seat constituencies; the remaining 46 are chosen by proportional representation. Members of the assembly serve four-year terms.

The third largest economy in Asia after China and Japan, Korea is a major force to be reckoned with in electronics, mobile phones, digital displays, steel and semiconductors, amongst other things. It is the world leader in shipbuilding and the automotive business is also large, with great domestic loyalty; 97.3% of all cars sold are Korean. The Korean Development Institute estimates that 5.2% average growth will be possible until 2011 if Korea continues with its economic reforms.

The Incheon Free Economic Zone (IFEZ) is being built near Incheon International Airport as a business and tourism hub for northeast Asia, and the East Sea Free Trade Zone is also underway in the east coast city of Donghae. The thaw in relations with the North has seen a growth of economic links; 10km (6 miles) north of the demilitarised zone is the new Gaeseong Industrial Complex, which provides South Korean companies with a base from which to access a cheap and hard-working labor market; and North Koreans get a glimpse of economic prosperity.

Unemployment was at 3.3% in 2006, and inflation was forecast to rise to 2.6% in 2007 (from 2.2% in 2006).

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