South Korea (officially, Republic of Korea) encompasses an area of 98,477 sq. km. (38,022 sq. mi.). South Korea is located in Eastern Asia, on the southern half of the Korean Peninsula bordering the Sea of Japan and the Yellow Sea. Its capital is Seoul (population 10.3 million); other major cities are: Busan, Daegu, Inchon, Gwangju, Daejeon, and Ulsan. The terrain of South Korea consists of forested mountain ranges separated by deep, narrow valleys and cultivated plains along the coasts.
Korea's population is one of the most ethnically and linguistically homogenous in the world. Except for a small Chinese community (about 20,000), virtually all Koreans share a common cultural and linguistic heritage. With 48.6 million people inhabiting an area roughly the size of Indiana, South Korea has one of the world's highest population densities. Major population centers are located in the northwest, southeast, and in the plains south of the Seoul-Incheon area.
An independent Korean state or a collection of states has existed almost continuously for several millennia. Between its initial unification in the 7th century, until the 20th century, Korea existed as a single independent country. In 1905, following the Russo-Japanese War, Korea became a protectorate of imperial Japan, and in 1910 it was annexed as a colony. Korea regained its independence following Japan's surrender to the United States in 1945. After World War II, the Republic of Korea (ROK) was set up in the southern half of the Korean Peninsula. During the Korean War (1950-53), US troops and UN forces fought alongside soldiers from the ROK to defend South Korea from Democratic People's Republic of Korea attacks supported by China and the Soviet Union. An armistice was signed in 1953, splitting the peninsula along a demilitarized zone at about the 38th parallel.
After 1953, South Korea achieved rapid economic growth. In 1993, Kim Young-sam became South Korea's first civilian president, following 32 years of military rule. In June 2000, a historic North-South summit took place between South's President Kim Dae-jung and the North's leader Kim Jong Il. In October 2007, a second North-South summit took place between the South's President Roh Moo-hyun and the North Korean leader. Harsh rhetoric and unwillingness by North Korea to engage with President Lee Myung-bak following his February 2008 inauguration has strained inter-Korean relations.
The natural hazards facing South Korea consist of occasional typhoons bringing high winds and floods and low-level seismic activity. On September 2, 2010, Typhoon Kompasu struck South Korea, in what was called the strongest tropical storm to hit the area in 15 years.
For more information on the typhoon, see the United States National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) web site.
U.S. State Department Background Notes; CIA World Factbook, 05/2010; 08/2010