South Korea Industry

The industry is strongly export-oriented and the leading sector in the Korean economy. A fundamental feature of South Korea’s business is the crucial role played by the country’s large corporate groups (chaebols).

Led by powerful entrepreneurs and owner families, the chaebols were the backbone of the “South Korean economic wonder” during the post-war era. Groups such as Samsung, Hyundai, LG, SK, Hanjin, Lotte and others still dominate the development of industry, export and technical ability. The criticism of the chaebols’ power seems to have grown in recent years. But the position of big companies still seems largely unbroken, despite the fact that many of the owners and top executives have been convicted of financial irregularities over the past two decades. Together, the twenty largest conglomerates had sales that accounted for over 80 percent of South Korea’s GDP at the beginning of the 2010s – Samsung alone accounted for about 20 percent.

South Korea developed early into one of the world’s largest textile manufacturers, but then invested in high-tech production. South Korea began manufacturing televisions in 1969 and a couple of decades later, textiles were the main export product. The growing automotive industry conquered major markets in North America and Europe, and in the early 1990s, South Korea became the world’s leading shipbuilding nation. The country is one of the most important steel producers, has significant petrochemical industry and is successful in nuclear technology. Much crude oil is imported and the refining operations are extensive.

Wage increases in South Korea, competition from new low-wage countries and increased protectionism in the Western world have driven the large South Korean textile companies to move production to new areas. Worst of all are the salaries in North Korea, where South Korean companies have been able to place production in Kaesong’s industrial park just north of the border since 2005. However, operations there were still several months in 2013 when the tension was particularly high between North and South Korea.

  • COUNTRYAAH: List of top trading partners of South Korea. Includes countries that imported most shipments from and exported most goods to the country.

In recent years, the data and telecom sectors have grown the most in South Korea with Samsung and LG Electronics in the forefront. South Korean manufacturers of memory chips and LCDs are also world leaders.

South Korea is one of the world’s largest car manufacturers. Production fell during the global financial crisis of 2008–2009 but then rose to a record level in 2011. Subsequently, the number of manufactured cars fell slightly over the following two years. At the beginning of the 2010, car manufacturers accounted for about a fifth of all value created in the South Korean industry and invested heavily in electric cars. One future question is how much of the car manufacturing will be moved to other countries.

The rapid industrialization and motorization have led to major environmental problems with rapidly increasing carbon dioxide emissions.

South Korea



Historical settlement

Japan and South Korea conclude a historic settlement that countries hope to resolve the protracted conflict over how Japan can make it possible for Korean women and girls to be used as sex slaves by Japanese soldiers during World War II. In 1993, Japan acknowledged that the women were exploited but no apology was delivered. According to the new settlement, Japan agrees to a demand from South Korea and promises to establish a 1 billion yen fund (US $ 8.3 million) on behalf of women. Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe also apologizes, saying that Japan has a “deep responsibility” for women’s fate. South Korea announces that the issue will be considered definitively resolved if Japan lives up to its promises.


Great demonstrations

More than 70,000 protesters from various unions, farmers’ organizations and civil unions gather in Seoul to protest President Park’s educational and labor market policies. Among other things, the President wants to introduce new labor market legislation and introduce one and the same state-approved textbook in history teaching. Police use tear gas and water cannons to disperse the protesters. Many people are injured and about fifty activists are taken care of by the police.


Land mines lead to tensions

Tensions are rising between South Korea and North Korea after land mines in the demilitarized zone between the countries injured two South Korean soldiers. South Korea resumes propaganda broadcasts targeting North Korea via speakers at the border, leading to North Korea firing grenades at the border area. Shelling from both sides also occurs. To end the loudspeaker calls, South Korea demands that Pyongyang apologize for laying out land mines that damaged South Korean soldiers. Both countries for high-level talks to resolve the tense situation. A few days later, the countries will agree that South Korea will cease speaker broadcasts and North Korea in return withdraw troops mobilized at the border.


Virus outbreak over

The outbreak of MERS (see June) is reported to be over. 36 people have died from the virus.


Kyo-Ahn new Prime Minister

Parliament approves Hwang Kyo-Ahn as new prime minister on June 18.

Viruses are spreading

The Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) virus continues to infect new people. By mid-June, some 20 South Koreans had died of the disease. The virus began to spread after a 68-year-old man fell ill after a visit to Saudi Arabia. He infected several people when he was cared for in hospital and he later died in the suites of the disease.


New prime minister is nominated

President Park nominates Hwang Kyo-Ahn, the current Minister of Justice, as the new Prime Minister. The appointment must be approved by Parliament before it can take effect.


Prime Minister resigns

Prime Minister Lee Wan-Koo offers to resign from his post after being accused of receiving bribes. A businessman who committed suicide leaves a letter stating that he has donated large sums of money in illegal campaign support to Lee. President Park accepts Lee shortly afterwards.

The captain is sentenced to life

On April 16, the same date as the Sewol ferry dropped a year ago, President Park promises to salvage the ferry and do everything possible to find the remaining nine dead, whose bodies have not yet been recovered. A couple of weeks later, an appeals court sentenced the ferry captain to life imprisonment.


Outdated team is torn down

The Constitutional Court rips up a 62-year-old law that banned adultery and punished it with up to two years in prison. The Court finds that the law, which was created to protect traditional family values, violated the country’s constitution. Over the past ten years, the number of charges and sentences for adultery has steadily declined. The court’s ruling causes the share of the country’s largest condom manufacturer to rise sharply.

South Korea Industry

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