10 Surprises of (South) Korea (1950-2007)

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From: http://www.koreatimes.co.kr/www/news/art/2007/12/135_12432.html originally

The Korea Times, the nation’s first English daily, turned 57 on Nov. 1, 2007. The TOP 10 Series will feature the biggest news stories, scandals, events, figures, surprises and memorable moments in the coming weeks, in celebration of the anniversary. The series will allow our readers to revisit these moments of the past. Current and former staff members of the oldest English daily selected the Top 10s through internal meetings, online surveys and advice from outside experts. If you have differing opinions, let us know by email (gallantjung@koreatimes.co.kr).

Korean War (1950-53)


The Korean War broke out on June 25, 1950, when North Korean troops invaded South Korea, crossing the 38th parallel, the line dividing the two Koreas.

Before the invasion, South and North Korea existed as provisional governments competing for control over the Korean Peninsula after the division of Korea by the United States and the former Soviet Union in the Cold War era.

North Korean forces were backed by China, with limited assistance from the Soviet Union in the form of combat advisors, military pilots and weapons.

Sixteen countries, led by the United States, dispatched troops under the United Nations flag to fight along side South Koreans against the communist North’s troops.

The war, often dubbed the “Forgotten War,” resulted in a devastating death toll on both sides, though the total numbers of casualties suffered by all parties may never be known.

According to a government report, South Korea lost more than 58,100 killed in action and some 175,700 were wounded, while about 215,000 North Korean soldiers were killed in action and 303,000 were injured. At least two million Korean civilians are estimated to have lost their lives during the conflict.

The United States, the largest troop contributor, lost more than 35,000 killed in combat and other U.N. forces lost over 3,000, according to the report. About 114,000 Chinese forces were killed in combat.

A ceasefire treaty was signed by the U.S.-led United Nations, North Korea and China on July 27, 1953. The armistice has never been replaced with a permanent peace treaty, leaving the two Koreas still technically at war.

Economic Development (1970s – 2007)


From the ashes of the Korean War, the country has made a remarkable leap forward in economy, now boasting its semiconductor, automobile, steel, shipbuilding and petrochemical industries as some of the world’s best.

The nation’s per capita GDP hiked more than 20-fold between 1960 and 2000, along with exports increasing more than 1,700-fold.

South Korea, now the world’s 13th largest economy, had a per capita GNP of only $100 in 1963. It jumped to more than $16,000 in 2005.

The progress is attributed in part to former President Park Chung-hee’s economic policy in the early 1960s focusing on exports and labor-intensive light industries, which fueled the speedy debt-financed industrial expansion.

The 1970s was a time when Korea started gearing fiscal and financial policies toward various industries, including consumer electronics, auto, heavy and chemical industries, which was soon followed by the manufacturing growth in the 1980s and 1990s.

Ongoing growth blessed the country’s economic stroll until the 1997-98 Asian financial crisis hit hard, crippling the country’s major conglomerates and financial institutions.

But after receiving aid from the International Monetary Fund (IMF), South Korea made a comeback on the back of extensive financial reforms led by former President Kim Dae-jung.

South Korea seeks to achieve per capita GDP of $20,000 next year.

Military Coups (May 16, 1961/December 12, 1979)


After Syngman Rhee, the first president of the Republic of Korea, being forced out of office in April 1960 for his mismanagement of state affairs and a string of corruption incidents, the government led by a figurehead President Yun Po-son and Prime Minister Chang Myon faced political and economic difficulties.

Students hit the streets demanding political and economic reforms, amid continued factional wrangling among politicians.

Seizing the moment, Major General Park Chung-hee led a bloodless military coup on May 16, 1961. The general seized control of the government and became president.

Park became the real power as chairman of the Supreme Council for National Reconstruction with rank of general. He won the presidential elections in 1963 and 1967.

Major General Chun Doo-hwan seized power in a coup in 1979 and was president from 1981 to 1988. Chun was in charge of the investigation into the assassination of President Park Chung-hee. On Dec. 12, 1979, Chun ordered the arrest of then Army Chief of Staff Gen. Chung Sung-hwa without authorization of then-President Choi Kyu-ha.

As a result, Chun and his fellow class military academy graduates, including Major General Roh Taewoo, took control of the South Korean military.

Assassination of Park Chung-hee (October 26, 1979)


The assassination of former President Park Chung-hee occurred on Oct. 26, 1979 at a secret house in the Cheong Wa Dae compound. It is widely known in Korea as the “Oct. 26 incident”.

Kim Jae-kyu, director of the now-defunct Korea Central Intelligence Agency, shot Park to death at a dinner. The spy chief testified in court: “I shot the heart of Yushin Constitution like a beast. I did that for democracy of this country. Nothing more nothing less.”

The government promulgated the Yushin Constituiton in 1972 to pave a way for Park to seek a third term.

Gwangju Pro-Democracy Movement (a.k.a. “massacre”; May 1980)


Gwangju citizens and students took the streets in May 1980, calling for the lifting of the martial law declared by Major General Chun Doo-hwan after Park’s assassination and the country’s democratization.

The government, virtually led by Chun, called the movement a rebellion backed by communist North Korea and took suppressive measures against the Gwangju citizens by expanding the martial law to the whole nation.

The conflict culminated on May 20 when soldiers dispatched to the region used gunfire, killing large numbers of citizens.

There is no exact death toll of the movement. According to an association of bereaved families of the victims, at least 165 people died between May 18 and May 27. Another 65 are still missing and presumed dead.

After civil rule was reinstated in South Korea, the incident received recognition as an effort to restore democracy from authoritarian rule. The government offered a formal apology for the bloody crackdown, and a national cemetery for the victims was established in Gwangju.

Seoul Olympics (1988), Korea-Japan World Cup (2002)


In 1988, South Korea hosted one of the largest global sporting festivals, the Summer Olympics. A total of 8,391 atletes from 159 nations participated in the event, while North Korea refused to attend.

Seoul was chosen as the host for the 1988 Olympics in Setember 1981, beating the Japanese city of Nagoya. It was the second Asian naton to ever host the Olympic Games.

In 2002, South Korea co-hosted the World Cup with Japan. It was the first World Cup held in Asia and being held by two countries.

South Korea’s natonal soccer squad, led by coach Guus Hiddink of the Netherlands, made the semi-finals, the first among Asian teams in the World Cup history.

Presidential Impeachment (May 12, 2004)


On March 12, 2004, the National Assembly voted to impeach President Roh Moo-hyun for illegal electioneering and incompetence charges.

The impeachment motion, the first ever filed against an incumbent president in South Korea, came after the National Election Commission ruled that Roh had violated the Election Law during a television debate by urging voters to support candidates of his Uri Party.

Roh refused to accept the demands by the Grand National Party (GNP) and the Millennium Democratic Party (MDP) that Roh apologize for his remarks.

The vote was 193-2, with Roh’s supporters abstaining from the vote.

Roh’s executive power was suspended until the final decision was made by the Constitutional Court, and Prime Minsiter Goh Kun served as acting president.

The impeachment bid met with strong opposition from the public. Many thought the impeachment was too harsh despite Roh’s mismagement of state affairs and often-made improper remarks.

The Constitutional Court overturned the impeachment motion, restoring Roh as the head of state.

Opposition parties faced a backlash in the National Assembly elections.

North Korean Nuclear Test (October 9, 2006)


On Oct. 9, 2006, North Korea’s Korean Central News Agency announced that it had carried out its first-ever nuclear test, sparking international condemnation.

The North claimed the test was successful, but scientific analysis of an explosion raised questions about the claim.

The test was estimated to have had an explosive force of less than one kiloton, and some radioactive output was detected.

The U.S. Central Intelligence Agency said the underground nuclear device test was a “failure.”

The United Nations Security Council unanimously approved limited military and economic sanctions against North Korea, including an international embargo on any goods or materials that could be used in North Korea’s missile and nuclear programs, as well as inspections of cargo going in and out of the country.

South Korea suspended a scheduled aid shipment to North Korea.

South Korean UN Secretary General (October 13, 2006)


Former South Korean Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade Ban Ki-moon was selected as the secretary-general of the United Nations. He replaced Kofi Annan.

The selection of Ban gave not only a pride of the South Korean people but a glory to the entier Asian people.

He is the second Asian to assume the post, following U Thant of Myanmar who served from 1961 to 1971.

IT Powerhouse (2007)


South Korea is the one of the world’s most wired nations.

According to Nielsen, eight in 10 South Koreans have access to the Internet, and 88 percent of the population own a personal computer at home.

Korea has ranked third for the third consecutive year since 2005 in the national informatization level, according to reports.

Korea’s homegrown wireless Internet technology, WiBro, was officially adopted as one of the international standards for third-generation communications technologies.

WiBro, referred to as mobile WiMAX globally, allows users to surf the Internet at speeds of 2-3 mbps while moving at speeds of up to 120 kilometers per hour.

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