The 'Know Your Region' series is designed to support unit and individual professional military education on the South East Asian region. It's important for all serving members of our military to have a foundational knowledge of the countries and issues in the Indo-Pacific.
THE KOREAS – INFORMATION
On this page:
Republic of Korea (ROK) – Information
- Culture / Demographics
- National Psyche
- Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs
- Media and the Internet
- Communications and Technology
- International Forums
Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) – Information
- Culture / Demographics
- National Psyche
- Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs
- Media and the Internet
ROK – INFORMATION
The ROK is the southernmost part of the Korean Peninsula. It has a total land mass of approximately 100,000 km2 of which 70% is mountainous. Half of its 51.7 million population live in Seoul, the country’s capital. The ROK borders the DPRK and its other closest neighbours are China, Japan and Russia. The South Korea – CIA World Fact Book provides broad and accurate information on the ROK and the following three videos provide a good introduction to the country:
Culture / Demographics
Korean culture is said to be one of the oldest continuous cultures in the world. That said, the Korean Peninsula has been separated into ROK and DPRK for around 70 years, and as a result, the two countries’ cultures have evolved very differently since then.
Watch this interesting and informative video to find out more:
The official language of the ROK is Korean. Like some other Asian nations, the ROK population is almost entirely homogenous and, as a result of emigration, it is estimated that the current Korean Diaspora is around 7.5 million people. Korean is the official language for both ROK and the DPRK, although each has a different dialect: the Seoul dialect is the main dialect for ROK, which has also included a number of anglicised words in recent history. Korean is believed to have evolved from several different languages from different groups of people who lived on the Peninsula around 3000 BCE.
There is no dominant religion in ROK: those who practice a faith are generally Buddhists or Christians, but almost half the population do not identify themselves with any particular religion.
Korean customs and traditions include music, dance, art, ceramics and cooking. In modern times, the ROK’s musical export success has been in Korean Pop-Culture – or ‘K-Pop’. This style of popular music has influenced both Asian and Western music scenes. Traditional art and architecture are a comfortable blend with modern city dwellings and lifestyle, which enables the modern and the rich cultures of the past to exist alongside each other, indeed, much of the ROK’s cultural heritage has been recognized and is protected under UNESCO’s World Heritage list. ROK heritage sites can be seen in this video:
For more information on the ROK’s culture and demographics, see the resources below:
- Korean Language
- South Korean Culture
- Migrant statistics 2017
- Korean Culture
- UNESCO Heritage in Korea
- Korean Tourism Information – Harmony Between Tradition and Modernity
- Centre for Global Education: Korean History and Political Geography
- Culture and the Arts: MOFA
- Human Rights Watch World report 2021: South Korea Events of 2020
ROK has a highly developed national identity founded through centuries of cultural traditions. Koreans are hardworking, humble and generally have a sense of pride in their cultural history and traditions. The national psyche of the ROK today has been shaped by traditional cultures and belief systems, such as Confucianism, as well as modern western influences.
Like many other Asian countries, the ROK traditionally holds value in the ‘group’ - rather than the ‘self’, which means working for the greater good of all. While this philosophy began to disappear in the years following the Korean War, and was revived again in the 1990s, modern technological freedoms and continued western influences have again seen individual needs over group consideration become commonplace. Likewise, the Korean traditional work ethic of exceptionally long working days and commitment to the team may be shifting with younger generations who have differing values and motivations.
Part of Korean national psyche is explained through ‘han’ – an internalised feeling defined through negative emotions such as sorrow, injustice, anger, or regret. It is the idea that a sense of injustice has been committed to one person or a group of people, and it is very much part of the Korean psyche. Some feel that ‘han’ is a response to Korea’s long history of pain and suffering through wars and oppression. Han is difficult to translate and seems uniquely Korean, but the following videos go some way to explaining what Han is:
The concept of ‘saving face’, or ‘chae-myun’, in Korean is very much a part of the country’s culture. Koreans avoid topics that might cause shame to themselves or to others, particularly regarding gender, family and societal position. Koreans take saving face very seriously and this Intercultural Communications Studies PDF details chae-myun, including some very confronting examples of how Koreans have demonstrated a need to save face in the past.
Another element of Korea’s psyche is ‘Noonchi/Nunchi’ or Korea’s superpower. Often described as Korean’s sixth sense’, the word ‘nunchi’ means ‘eye measure’ which can be compared to emotional intelligence. Three Australian Koreans explain Nunchi in this short video:
For further information on the ROK’s national psyche, see the resources below:
- Korea’s Path from Poverty to Philanthropy
- Psychology of Korean Han
- A complex feeling tugs at Koreans: - ‘han’
- The Importance of Saving Face in Korea
- South Korea millennials bring change to hard-driving work culture
- Go Home, South Korea Tells Workers, as Stress Takes Its Toll
- Differences in Work Ethics between Korea and The West
- On working from home, no 'hoesik,' young workers prefer COVID-era work culture
Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs
Established in 2010, ROK public diplomacy is relatively new. It is one of the government’s three pillars to build diplomatic relations and The Public Diplomacy Act was released in 2017. ROK’s public diplomacy intent is to strategically influence its neighbours and global powers near or far, to achieve a positive national and international image, and to support the enhancement of international relations to influence other nations and gain their trust. One way of achieving this is through communicating the country’s cultural traditions, values and policies, and sharing its long and varied history through cultural engagement, arts and music. This diagram from the ROK Ministry of Foreign Affairs shows the strategies in place:
While ROK’s vision to charm the world may have been affected by COVID-19 impacts on tourism, through the ‘Korean Wave’ and use of television and social media, the ROK continues to charm with a soft-power approach to its regional and global neighbours. Some say; however, that the scope and content of digital technology used is insufficient as a means of public diplomacy and that the ROK needs a better digital diplomacy strategy.
For more information on ROK public diplomacy and public affairs, see the resources below:
- Korean Government National Affairs
- Explore Korea's charm through Netflix
- The Case for South Korean Soft Power
- South Korea International Relations
- ROK MOFA: Overview Foreign Policy and Public Diplomacy
- Korea’s Public Diplomacy: A New initiative for the Future
- South Korea’s Soft Power in Middle Power Diplomacy: Enhancing Popular Culture and its Challenges
Media and the Internet
The success of ROK’s use of Internet in terms of speed and access began in the 1990s when the government invested funding in broadband and developed sound policies for Internet access and growth. From 1995 to 2000, the ROK’s Internet access grew from one in every one-hundred people to over 20 million people. The early establishment of government policies have ensured that private Internet providers are de-regulated, supporting fair competition for Internet provision.
Government investment has continued to provide almost all the population with Internet access and has helped the country build a strong economy. In 2018, the ROK introduced 5G technology, and earlier this year it was estimated there were over 13 million 5G users in the country. It is expected that in the next 5 years, this will grow to over 90% of Internet users having 5G access.
This podcast gives more information on 5G services in ROK.
Over 60% of the population of the ROK have a social media account, the most popular apps being KakaoTalk, Naver, Cyworld, and Snow, and it is estimated that KakaoTalk is the most widely used IM application in the country with over 49.1 million active users.
The ROK has three major News broadcasters: KBS (Korean Broadcasting System), MBC (Munhwa Broadcasting Corporation), and SBS (Seoul Broadcasting System), and five major newspapers. Many in the ROK feel that the Korean Government manipulates news networks and newspapers, and others have suggested that large tech companies, who pay millions in advertising, are also able to influence the media, as highlighted in this article.
For more information on media and the Internet in the ROK, see the resources below:
- Five reasons South Korea has the fastest internet
- Internet usage in South Korea - Statistics & Facts
- Why is South Korea a Global Broadband Leader?
- How South Korea Became the World’s Podcasting Capital
- South Korea: consumption and trust in news media since COVID-19
- South Korea profile - Media
- South Korea’s New Internet Controls Spark Controversy
- South Korea’s needless censorship of North Korean material
Communications and Technology
The ROK has one of the most advanced communications and technology industries in the world and is one of the world’s leading manufacturers of wireless communication devices such as laptops, mobile telephones and GPS systems. The ROK is the leading manufacturer and exporter of semi-conductors, with over 20,000 semi-conductor-related companies; and the government is actively supporting the investment of over $450 billion into domestic production and exports of these items.
The ROK is also developing its IT software services, which will likely be another area of growth for its economy.
Samsung is probably the most commonly known ROK tech company and in 2020, shipped 267 million smartphones worldwide. In the second quarter of 2021, Samsung was estimated to hold a global market share of 18.8% of the smartphone market.
For further information on the ROKs communications and technology, see the resources below:
The ROK is a member of several international forums. See ROK – Diplomacy for more information as well as this link, which will provide some overarching information. The ROK has recently established a new forum for innovation and technology: the Global Innovative Growth Forum open to domestic and international interests, including Korean organisations as well as the World Bank.
The ROK also pursues the ideal of a united Korea, through its alliance with the USA. The ‘International Forum for One Korea’ occurs annually. This speech by the Founder and Chairman of Global Peace Foundation through which the forum is supported, gives a little understanding of the ROK’s desired pathway for unification, with limited support from the USA.
This 2019 video shows some highlights of the forum:
For more information on these international forums, see the articles below:
- New Global Forum in Korea to Harness Innovation and Technology for Sustainable Development
- The World Bank
- 2021 International Forum on One Korea
DPRK – INFORMATION
The DPRK is situated in the northern half of the Korean Peninsula. It borders China and Russia to the north, and the ROK to the south. The DPRK has a land mass of 120,538 sq kms of which approximately 70% is mountainous regions. For a summary of facts on the DPRK, see the CIA World Factbook.
There are approximately 25 million people living in the DPRK, the most privileged of whom live in the capital city of Pyongyang. Situated in the north of the country, the city sits on the Yalu (or Amnok) River and borders China. Pyongyang is the access point for trade between China and the DPRK.
This short video gives a good history of the country since its establishment approximately 70 years ago:
Culture / Demographics
Korean is the official language of the DPRK and the population is almost entirely homogeneous, with a very small minority of Chinese and Japanese migrants. The country is mostly atheist although historically, the population practised Buddhism or Confucianism, and more recently Christianity in the 19th century. ‘Chondogyo’ meaning Religion of the Heavenly Way - a combination of Confucianism, Buddhism, Taoism, and Korean nationalism was practised from 1860 although today, it is no longer practised. Constitutionally, citizens of the DPRK have the right of freedom to choose and practise their own faith; however, some suggest this is a façade.
This video provides an interesting historical insight and opinion of DPRK religions.
Some perspectives on DPRK culture can be gained from this 2012, US Defence video cultural awareness training video:
For more information on the DPRK culture and demographics, see the following resources:
- DPRK Ministry of Foreign Affairs: Panorama of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea
- 7 strange cultural facts about North Korea
- Kim Jong-Un is waging a culture war
- North Korea Country Profile and timeline (BBC)
- Facts about Ch'ondogyo
- North Korea – The Hermit Kingdom
- A culture war is brewing in North Korea
- Everyculture.com: North Korea
- North Korea: Everything you need to know about the country
From a Western perspective, the DPRK’s most commonly known national psyche (or identity) is ‘juche’ or self-reliance. Historically, the DPRK national psyche has been influenced significantly by leadership, philosophy and outcomes of conflicts, which bring about a complexity of national psyche that is more than simply ‘juche’.
The culture of the DPRK was the same as that of the ROK when both countries had a shared history as one autonomous ‘Korea’. The turning point of the DPRK national psyche came after the division of the Korean Peninsula in 1953 and the establishment of a very different system of government to that of the ROK. While the South was influenced by the West, the North was heavily influenced by the Soviet Union and communist ideology.
Although the DPRK has maintained its identity, language and many of its customs, ethnic identity must co-exist with cultural and civic nationalism, and is influenced by ‘Juche’, which is in turn reinforced by government control through its centralised approach to domestic and economic policy.
This video explains ‘Juche’ in more detail:
This paper on the nationalism between the DPRK and the ROK gives an informative insight into historical and cultural events that shaped each country.
For more information on the DPRK national psyche, see the following resources:
Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs
Information publicly available from the DPRK is limited and reporters who have entered the country have often identified a ‘state-managed’ diplomatic message. The DPRK Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) promulgates details of President Kim Jong Un’s activities, as well as demographic information and cultural history through the DPRK MOFA website and the Voice of Korea.
One way in which the DPRK is able to exert social control over its population is through propaganda in state-controlled media. National television and available media sites advertise positive images of health and prosperity, despite external reports of natural disasters and food shortages. Some examples of DPRK propaganda are explained in this video:
In the past, some extreme propaganda videos have included the DPRK winning the 2010 Soccer World Cup and rockets being aimed at the Whitehouse, although early DPRK reporting on the Coronavirus was relatively accurate.
For more information on DPRK public diplomacy and public affairs, see the resources below:
Media and the Internet
The DPRK has several principal newspapers that are published in Pyongang but there is no access to foreign newspaper materials. Once a year, the country’s press publishes information to provide international audiences with information on the country.
There is one television broadcasting committee and four major television channels. In the DPRK, media promotes ‘juche’ and is controlled by the government. Media is a tool through which the State can provide select information on regional and western neighbours; and there is no outside television network available for viewing in the DPRK. Access to the Internet is generally very restricted and State media is regularly focused upon positive images of the current president, Kim Jong-Un and the Kim Dynasty.
There are DPRK websites that are accessible to those from outside the country, which focus upon arts and culture and messages about the DPRK leader. Recently, the DPRK has made its official presence known on YouTube and Twitter, and statistics regarding social media use in the country can be found here.
One of the most famous faces of DPRK Television is Ri Chun-Hee, Kim Jong-Un’s preferred anchor woman. Ri Chun-hee, has been brought out of retirement on a number of occasions to announce major events within the DPRK such as North Korea’s Hydrogen Bomb test and the Trump-Kim summit. She was also the preferred announcer for the The death of Kim Jong-Il. While Ri Chun-hee’s ability to portray and broadcast the emotions of the nation cannot be denied, it seems that the DPRK is now moving to younger influencers to deliver its message, using Vanity vlogs with Jin Hui, and Instagram accounts such as Siegfried Chu. The DPRK propaganda changes are highlighted in this video:
For more information on the DPRK media and Internet, see the resources below:
- The citizens of the DPRK are taught to revere the Kim dynasty, with fanciful tales about the deeds and capabilities of its leaders. Have ongoing sanctions, wide scale hunger and the pandemic potentially undermined this psyche? What would be the broader strategic and political impacts within the region if the DPRK significantly changed its stance on global issues to enable stability?
- The ROK has some strict entrenched cultural practices which has for many years influenced public and foreign policy. Are these practices, such as the concept of ‘han’, preventing better relationships with neighbours such as Japan and the DPRK? What effects might western influences have on improving these relationships, and on Korean society in general?
- The DPRK has closed itself off to the world for over 70 years, yet there have been small efforts made to increase its international exposure, such as through joint appearance with the ROK at Olympic Games. Should other nations try to influence this process, or is it a matter strictly for the Koreans?
- ROK strategic policy for nearly 70 years has revolved around being able to call upon large manpower reserves in the time of war. However, there is a concern that exposure to the materialism and excess of western culture has undermined the concept of national pride and a willingness to put country before self. Is this an accurate belief? Has the evolution of unregulated social media undermined the sovereignty, and any expectations of a unified national response to a potential crisis or conflict? What does this mean for us?