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BACKGROUND NOTES. 1987 Apr; 1-7.The Republic of Korea occupies approximately 38,000 square miles in the southern position of a mountaineous peninsula. It shares a land boundary with North Korea. With a population of more than 40 million people, South Korea has 1 of the highest population densities in the world. The language spoken is a Uralic language, closely akin to Japanese, Hungarian, Finnish, and Mongolian, and the traditional religions are Shamanism and Buddhism. Over the course of time, South Korea has been invaded and fought over by its neighbors. The US and the Soviet Union have never been able to reach a unification agreement for North and South Korea. The 3rd Republic era, begun in 1963, saw a time of rapid industrialization and a great deal of economic growth. The 5th Republic began with a new constitution and new elections brought about the election of a president to a 7-year term of office beginning in 1981. Economic growth has been remarkable over the last 25 years despite the fact that North Korea possesses most of the mineral and hydroelectric resources and the existing heavy industrial base built by the Japanese while South Korea has the limited agricultural resources and had, initially, a large unskilled labor pool. Serious industrial growth began in South Korea in the early 1960s and the GNP grew at an annual rate of 10% during the period 1963-78. Current GNP is now, at $2000, well beyond that of its neighbors to the north. The outlook for longterm growth is good; however, the military threat posed by North Korea and the absence of foreign economic assistance has resulted in Korea spending 1/3 of its budget on defense. South Korea is active in international affairs and in the UN. Economic realities have forced Korea to give economics priority in their foreign policy. There has been an on-again, off-again quality to dialogue between the 2 nations. However, the US is committed to maintaining peace on the Korean peninsula. In order to do so, they have supplied manpower and support to supplement Korea's efforts to deter aggression. The US also believes that talks between governments are essential if reunification will ultimately occur. South Korea is now the US' largest commercial partner and Korea seems to understand that they can benefit greatly by having increased US private sector involvement in Korea's development.