South Korea

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South Korea is a horribly competitive nation with its cut-throat college entrance exams, narrow chances of employment, insecure old-age life, difficulty in getting married, and steep suicide rates... I feel really happy that I was not born as a Korean. ~ Masatoshi Muto
Korea, on the surface, seems like a very rich and glamorous country now, with K-pop, high-speed internet and IT technology. But the relative wealth between rich and poor is widening. The younger generation, in particular, feels a lot of despair. —Bong Joon-ho
They don't like anyone who isn't Korean, and they don't like each other all that much, either. They're hardheaded, hard-drinking, tough little bastards, "the Irish of Asia". —P. J. O'Rourke

South Korea, officially the Republic of Korea (ROK; Korean: 대한민국; Hanja: 大韓民國; Daehan Minguk, literally "Great Korean People's Country") is a country in eastern Eurasia, constituting the southern part of the Korean Peninsula. The name Korea is derived from the Kingdom of Goryeo, also spelled as Koryŏ. It shares land borders with North Korea to the north, and oversea borders with Japan to the east and China to the west. Roughly half of the country's 50 million people reside in the metropolitan area surrounding its capital, the Seoul Capital Area, which is the second largest in the world with over 25 million residents.


  • South Korea is an extremely wired country, so has a lot to attack. Unfortunately for the South Koreans, North Korea has extremely limited internet connectivity and hence is a target-poor country. Hence, the only option is [conventional] war - or convincing the North Koreans that they can attack them in cyberspace as well.
  • South Korea has developed into one of Asia's most affluent countries since partition in 1948. The Communist North has slipped into totalitarianism and poverty.
  • As South Korea shows, active participation in international trade does not require free trade. Indeed, had South Korea pursued free trade and not promoted infant industries, it would not have become a major trading nation. It would still be exporting raw materials (e.g., tungsten ore, fish, seaweed) or low-technology, low-price products (e.g., textiles, garments, wigs made with human hair) that used to be its main export items in the 1960s.
    • Ha-Joon Chang, Bad Samaritans: The Myth of Free Trade and the Secret History of Capitalism (2008), Ch. 3, More trade, fewer ideologies, p. 82
  • Democracy has failed to dampen the right/left ideological schism, which is historically rooted in the early years of separate state creation. And neither the right nor the left is fully able to provide a convincing alternative vision of how democracy in Korean society can robustly develop and thereby enhance its quality. The rightists/conservatives, who continue to retain their predominant power and influence over the state and civil society, still cling to an old-fashioned, outmoded black-and-white ideology derived from the Cold War period. That ideology can no longer provide a political vision and values and norms pertinent to the post-Cold War era as well as a democratized, highly modernized and globalized social environment. Thereby they have failed to play a leading role in enhancing autonomy of civil society vis-à-vis the state, respecting rule of law, and contributing to bringing social integration and inclusiveness.

    On the other hand, the leftists have disappointed many people who expected that the entirely new generations which appeared on the political center stage in the course of democratization could play a decisive role in changing Korean politics. In recent years we have witnessed a growing disillusionment with the radical discourses and ideas as well as with their inability to develop a new type of party politics, deal with the socio-economic problems and provide a certain substantive model for ethical life.

    • Jang-jip Choi, "The Fragility of Liberalism and its Political Consequences in Democratized Korea" (2009)
  • As the most powerful state, the U.S. makes its own laws, using force and conducting economic warfare at will. It also threatens sanctions against countries that do not abide by its conveniently flexible notions of "free trade." In one important case, Washington has employed such threats with great effectiveness (and GATT approval) to force open Asian markets for U.S. tobacco exports and advertising, aimed primarily at the growing markets of women and children. The U.S. Agriculture Department has provided grants to tobacco firms to promote smoking overseas. Asian countries have attempted to conduct educational anti-smoking campaigns, but they are overwhelmed by the miracles of the market, reinforced by U.S. state power through the sanctions threat. Philip Morris, with an advertising and promotion budget of close to $9 billion in 1992, became China's largest advertiser. The effect of Reaganite sanction threats was to increase advertising and promotion of cigarette smoking (particularly U.S. brands) quite sharply in Japan, Taiwan, and South Korea, along with the use of these lethal substances. In South Korea, for example, the rate of growth in smoking more than tripled when markets for U.S. lethal drugs were opened in 1988. The Bush Administration extended the threats to Thailand, at exactly the same time that the "war on drugs" was declared; the media were kind enough to overlook the coincidence, even suppressing the outraged denunciations by the very conservative Surgeon-General. Oxford University epidemiologist Richard Peto estimates that among Chinese children under 20 today, 50 million will die of cigarette-related diseases...
  • Japan, a valued friend and ally of America, has made a significant act of contrition toward South Korea. The countries want to move ahead. If they can, they will see an economic and security benefit. The defense of Asia against North Korea, and the rise of China, will require far more cooperation from these partners. Ultimately it's up to South Korea to decide that the past is now the past. But Japan should continue to reflect publicly on the atrocities it committed, including the sex enslavement of women. It is a dark history.
  • There was little, if any, feeling of loyalty toward the abstract concept of Korea as a nation-state, or toward fellow inhabitants of the peninsula as "Koreans". Far more meaningful at the time, in addition to a sense of loyalty to the king, were the attachments of Koreans to their village of region, and above all to their clan, lineage, and immediate and extended family. The Korean elite in particular would have found the idea of nationalism not only strange but also uncivilized. Since at least the seventh century the ruling classes in Korea had thought of themselves in cultural terms less as Koreans than as members of a larger cosmopolitan civilization centered on China... To live outside the realm of Chinese culture was, for the Korean elite, to live as a barbarian.
  • South Korea, not very tolerant, is an outlier. Although the country is rich, well-educated, peaceful and ethnically homogenous – all trends that appear to coincide with racial tolerance – more than one in three South Koreans said they do not want a neighbor of a different race. This may have to do with Korea's particular view of its own racial-national identity as unique – studied by scholars such as B.R. Myers – and with the influx of Southeast Asian neighbors and the nation's long-held tensions with Japan.
  • In Korea we live on the floor, we sleep on the floor, we play on the floor, we do everything on the floor. So, it is very important to keep the floors clean.
  • As Paris was for France, Seoul was not simply Korea's largest town. It was Korea. Government was a great vortex summoning men rapidly into it, placing them briefly near the summitry of ambition and then sweeping them out, often ruthless into execution or exile.
  • South Korea in and of itself was of little importance to the global balance of power, but the fact that it had been invaded so blatantly—across the 38th parallel, a boundary sanctioned by the United Nations—appeared to challenge the entire structure of postwar collective security. It had been just this sort of thing that had led to the collapse of international order during the 1930s, and to the subsequent outbreak of World War II. Truman hardly needed to think aboout what to do: “We can’t let the UN down,” he reportedly told his advisors. It took the administration only hours to decide that the United States would come to the defense of South Korea, and it would do so not just on its own authority, but under that of the United Nations as well.
  • This was the cost--the terrible cost--of protecting the Republic of Korea from Communist aggression. And as I meet with President Park and see your countryside and your people, and then I look out into the faces of this Assembly, I know that these men did not die in vain. For here is one of the truly dramatic stories of our time--a nation transformed within a generation. I hope that a great historian will soon record the story: of how an ancient nation has emerged from the shadows of its colonial past and from the tragedy of war to become one of the youngest and the most vigorous constitutional democracies in the world. I want him to tell how this nation-through no fault of its own--was divided, and invaded, and almost destroyed. I want him to record that, when the fighting stopped, Korea faced every conceivable difficulty: its cities in ashes, millions of refugees, transportation in ruins, factories idle, inflation rampant, and unemployment high. I want him to tell of the men and women who guided this nation through those terrible years; of their greatness and their shortcomings; of their foresight and their errors. I want him to describe the student uprising, the military revolt, and then the achievement of constitutional government in the fall of 1963. I want him to recall the sense of triumph and accomplishment--when the votes were cast and counted, and the people had made their choice of who would govern. I want him to record how you have taken your stand with other nations that are helping South Vietnam to resist a new Communist tactic, one that combines external aggression with internal terror. I want him to record that your contribution, in terms of population, matches the United States of America.
  • Finally, I want him to record the astonishing economic and social progress that you have made working together in unity here in Korea: record harvests in the last 3 years, and rapid industrialization have given Korea a growth rate of 8 percent a year-one of the highest in the world; commodity exports have grown from $41 million in 1961 to an estimated $250 million this year; foreign exchange earnings are almost five times greater now than in 1961; serious inflation has been controlled; the rate of population growth has been brought down and thus you have dealt with one of Korea's--and the world's--most pressing problems; thousands of acres of new land have been reclaimed and terraced, where farm families can settle and thrive; your forests, devastated by war, have been replenished by conservation and new planting; you have launched a new institute of science and technology, of great promise for your future growth; you have encouraged, through your 90 percent literacy rate, and through the passion of your people for education, a new generation of highly trained young men and women to take their place in industry, in government, in schools, and in your armed forces. I have seen in Korea how real and how realistic are four goals of freedom adopted in Manila. You have fought--and you are fighting now--so that Asia can be free from aggression. You are moving rapidly in Korea to conquer hunger, illiteracy, and disease.
  • When I finally began to settle in South Korea, I noticed that South Korea was a highly individualistic society where you don’t know who lives next door and you shouldn’t try to find out, either. In South Korea, you should always be cautious of strangers who do you favors and you could be sued for swearing at someone else, all of which is inconceivable to North Koreans. During my three months at Hanawon, we went on an excursion to numerous industrial complexes and I dreamt big about my future. But South Korean society turned out to be one harsh world to live in. It was where everyone was connected based on the education and hometown backgrounds. In other words, you get promoted not based on your accomplishments but just because you happen to have attended the same college with your boss or you happen to be from the same hometown as them.
  • I have lived, and continue to live, in the belief that God is always with me. I know this from experience. In August of 1973, while exiled in Japan, I was kidnapped from my hotel room in Tokyo by intelligence agents of the then military government of South Korea. The news of the incident startled the world. The agents took me to their boat at anchor along the seashore. They tied me up, blinded me, and stuffed my mouth. Just when they were about to throw me overboard, Jesus Christ appeared before me with such clarity. I clung to him and begged him to save me. At that very moment, an airplane came down from the sky to rescue me from the moment of death.
  • When confederation is realized, and the ideologies of North and South are propagandized in the course of free intercourse between the two sides, the Republic [DPRK] will not be affected in the slightest, because it is a unified state. But the South is an ideologically divided, liberal country, so if we extensively propagate Juche Thought and the superiority of our system we can win over at least half its citizens. As of now South Korea is twice our size in population terms. But once we win over half the South's people in a confederation, we will be two parts to the South's one. We would then win either a general election or a war.
  • North Koreans now understand that South Korea is very rich. It is true, but there is a great difference between vaguely understanding something and having such graphic images of neighbors' prosperity flooding your daily life. As is usually the case, such pictures are liable to be exaggerated at first. An outsider in a rich country usually cannot immediately see the contradictions, problems and tensions that exist behind the sparking, glistening, glitzy facade. For the North Koreans, this picture of the South Korean prosperity would likely be seen as vivid proof of the complete failure of their leadership. The North Korean elite cannot even use the usual trick of putting the blame at the doors of their predecessors: This elite is hereditary, so the buck cannot be easily passed... The unavoidable spread of South Korean capital and information will put the North Korean government in a tight spot, to put it mildly.
  • Many South Korean politicians love the familiar platitude that 'unification by absorption is impossible'. What they really mean is that unification by absorption is not what anyone wants. They might be right about how repellent such scenarios are with the electorate, but things that are not wanted often do happen. Thus, we should think honestly and cynically about the challenges that Korean society will face if the increasingly dreaded unification by absorption does suddenly occur – most likely following a grave political crisis and/or regime implosion in the North. Perhaps we should not bother arguing about the statistical probability of such a scenario, but unlike the glorious fantasies of South Korean policy wonks, this is indeed what may happen. So, we must have a sober look at the problems a unified Korean state will face – and these problems are, indeed, numerous.
  • Sixty years ago, at dawn on June 25, the Korean War broke out when communist North Korea invaded the Republic of Korea. In response, 16 member countries of the United Nations, including the United States, joined with the Republic of Korea to defend freedom. Over the next three years of fighting, about 37,000 Americans lost their lives. They fought for the freedom of Koreans they did not even know, and thanks to their sacrifices, the peace and democracy of the republic were protected... The Republic of Korea has emerged as an important partner of the United States in many parts of the world. Also, in the course of investigating and responding to the North's March sinking of our naval vessel the Cheonan, Seoul and Washington have closely coordinated efforts and expertise. In all these endeavors, we are not losing sight of the necessity of eventually turning the Korean Peninsula into a cradle of regional and world peace... On this significant occasion, all Koreans pay tribute to the heroes fallen in defense of freedom and democracy. I firmly believe that future generations in both countries will further advance the strong Republic of Korea-U.S. alliance into one befitting the spirit of the new age... On the sixtieth anniversary of the Korean War, I remain grateful to America for having participated in the war. At that time, the Republic of Korea was one of the most impoverished countries, with an annual per capita income of less than $40. In 2009, my country became a member of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development's Development Assistance Committee, the first aid recipient to become a donor and in only one generation. The Republic of Korea is engaged in peacekeeping missions in 14 countries to promote global peace. It will host the G-20 summit in November, and in 2012 the second nuclear security summit.
  • We went over there and fought the war and eventually burned down every town in North Korea anyway, someway or another, and some in South Korea too... Over a period of three years or so, we killed off — what — twenty percent of the population of Korea as direct casualties of war, or from starvation and exposure?
    • Curtis LeMay in Strategic Air Warfare: An Interview with Generals (1988)
  • The tragedy of Korea is further heightened by the fact that its military action is confined to its territorial limits. It condemns that nation, which it is our purpose to save, to suffer the devastating impact of full naval and air bombardment while the enemy's sanctuaries are fully protected from such attack and devastation. Of the nations of the world, Korea alone, up to now, is the sole one which has risked its all against communism. The magnificence of the courage and fortitude of the Korean people defies description. They have chosen to risk death rather than slavery. Their last words to me were: 'Don't scuttle the Pacific!'
  • South Korea is a horribly competitive nation with its cut-throat college entrance exams, narrow chances of employment, insecure old-age life, difficulty in getting married, and steep suicide rates... I feel really happy that I was not born as a [South] Korean... Marriage is difficult unless they are college graduates... In order to get a good wife they have to be a graduate of first-rate university, and have to hold a job at top companies in South Korea... South Koreans want a glamorous marriage ceremony to save their face in front of others... Making a success in South Korea's highly competitive society is extremely difficult... I feel happy to be born in Japan not in South Korea... Their desperate wriggling out of this horrible competition led to their dispair and grumbling directed toward President Park... I doubt if South Korea is a democratic nation or not... Some citizens clamor for the stepdown of President Park even before the verdict on her is not officially made yet... This kind of thing is unthinkable in Japan... Last year over 70 percent of all successful entrants to South Korea's Foreign Ministry are all women... Females get much higher scores in the exam for the foreign officers... Women have more time to prepare for the exam while males are forced to serve in the military... Compulsory draft system for males is the reason.
  • South Korean nationalism is something quite different from the patriotism toward the state that Americans feel. Identification with the Korean race is strong, while that with the Republic of Korea is weak... Koreans in both the north and the south tend to cherish the myth that of all peoples in the world, they are the least inclined to premeditated evil.
  • South Korea has its most pacifist administration ever. The young man also knows that people here do not identify strongly with their state. No public holiday celebrates it, neither the flag nor the coat of arms nor the anthem conveys republican or non-ethnic values, no statues of presidents stand in major cities. Few people can even tell you the year in which the [South Korean] state was founded. When the average [South Korean] man sees the flag, he feels fraternity with Koreans around the world.
  • We got used to dividing the world into industrialized countries and developing countries – rich and poor. However, four East Asian tigers would soon disrupt our worldview. The British colony of Hong Kong and the city-state of Singapore did the opposite of all other countries, and opened their economies wide, without trade barriers. The experts claimed that free trade would knock out the small manufacturing sectors they had, but, on the contrary, they industrialized at a record pace and shocked the outside world by becoming even richer than the old colonial master, Britain. Taiwan and South Korea learned from this and began to liberalize their economies with amazing results. Their rapid growth took them from being some of the poorest countries in the world to some of the richest in a few generations. It was a global wake-up call because it was so easy to compare what the Chinese in Taiwan achieved compared to the Chinese in Mao’s China, and what the Koreans in the capitalist south created compared to the Koreans in the communist north. In the mid-1950s, Taiwan was only marginally richer than China. In 1980, it was four times richer. In 1955, North Korea was richer than South Korea. (The north was, after all, where mineral resources and power generation were located when the country was partitioned.) Today, South Korea is twenty times richer than North Korea.
    • Johan Norberg, The Capitalist Manifesto: Why the Global Free Market Will Save the World (2023)
  • They don't like anyone who isn't Korean, and they don't like each other all that much, either. They're hardheaded, hard-drinking, tough little bastards, "the Irish of Asia".
  • While stock markets in Asia are breathing a sigh of relief after North and South Korea’s leaders shared a friendly handshake and vowed to work toward wiping away nuclear weapons from the Korean Peninsula Friday, once high-flying defense stocks are taking the hit.... The U.S.’s five largest defense contractors shed about $10.2 billion in value on Friday alone. Lockheed Martin fell 2.5% to a valuation of about $92.1 billion; Northrop Grumman slid 3.4% to $56 billion; General Dynamics shed 3.8% to $60.7 billion; Raytheon dropped 3.6% to $50.8 billion; and finally, Boeing slid a much lesser 1% to $200.2 billion. The drop off comes even though quarterly earnings posted in recent days by General Dynamics, Lockheed Martin, and Northrup Grumman beat analyst expectations. The losses comes after North and South Korean leaders met Friday, agreeing to work toward removing nuclear weapons from the peninsula, and negotiate with the U.S. to officially declare peace and put an official end to the Korean War.
    • Lucinda Shen, Here’s Who Isn’t Winning From Denuclearization Talks and Friendlier North Korea-South Korea Relations,, Fortune, (27 April 2018)
  • I keep asking, how long will we go on defending South Korea from North Korea without payment? South Korea is a very very rich country. They're rich because of us. They sell us televisions, they sell us cars. They sell us everything. They are making a fortune. We have a huge deficit with South Korea. They're friends of mine. I do deals with them. I've been partners with them, no problem. But they think we're stupid. They can't believe it. We are defending them against North Korea, we're doing it for nothing. We're not in that position. When will they start to pay us for this defense? Isn't it really ridiculous when you think of it? They make a fortune on the United States and then they got some problems, and what happens? They call the United States to defend them, and we get nothing?

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