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South Korea Country Report

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Risk Level

Low
Moderate
Elevated
High
Very High
Severe
Extreme

Overview

Executive Summary

President Moon Jae-in’s Democratic Party (DP) secured a majority in the April 2020 parliamentary elections, indicating the public’s approval of the government response to the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) virus outbreak through mass testing, extensive contact tracing, and social distancing. However, some social distancing measures were reintroduced in May owing to a second wave of infections in Seoul and other cities. Moon will likely use this new parliamentary majority to pass key legislation before his terms end in May 2022, including reforming the country’s large family-run conglomerates, or chaebols. With the onset of COVID-19, major reforms of the chaebol system, such as streamlining ownership structures and ensuring fair competition with small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), will probably be delayed until the fourth quarter of 2020, though likely to take place in some form before May 2022.Political parties and alliances in South Korea are often based more on individual or regional allegiances rather than ideology. If Moon fails to act on his party’s parliamentary majority to pass structural reforms, then DP members are likely to seek to differentiate themselves from his policy programme in an attempt to improve their prospects in the presidential election.The pandemic will likely cause a serious contraction in the first half of 2020, but growth should return to normal near year-end, before accelerating further in 2021. Strong fundamentals favour continued expansion because of productivity growth, healthy domestic spending, and dovish monetary policy from the Bank of Korea.The main security threat stems from the fact that North Korea and South Korea are still technically at war. The North carried out a series of provocations against South Korea in June 2020, including the demolition of the inter-Korean liaison office on 16 June. The escalatory actions, which were probably aimed at pressuring the US into renewed talks, further undermined President Moon’s efforts at rapprochement.
Last update: July 8, 2020

Operational Outlook

South Korea's operational environment is generally benign, with a high standard of transport and communication infrastructure. Each year, however, union-led protests attract thousands of participants, disrupting transport in Seoul and other major cities. Although protests are unlikely to occur on the same scale and frequency as previous years because of the COVID-19 pandemic, they will likely resume gradually as infection rates stabilise. Corruption is more of a problem in South Korea than in other OECD countries. Multiple high-profile cases involve the "chaebol" conglomerates that dominate the economy, resulting in then-president Park Geun-hye's impeachment in March 2017.

Last update: July 15, 2020

Terrorism

Moderate

There are no organised militant groups in South Korea, although radical and occasionally violent individuals probably exist in student and labour movements acting in pursuit of political and economic objectives. However, security forces monitor known groups, mitigating the risks of attack. The substantial US military presence in South Korea makes US assets a potential target for militant attacks. North Korea conducted terrorism-style attacks on South Korea before the turn of the millennium, but the risk of further such attacks is low in the one-year outlook. Nonetheless, cyber attacks, likely perpetrated by North Korea, are growing in incidence and severity.

Last update: July 3, 2020

Crime

South Korea has relatively low levels of crime. Petty crime remains an issue, but foreigners are unlikely to be specifically targeted. The Korean National Police Agency (KNPA)’s October 2013 creation of a ‘tourist police’ division to patrol sites has led to a decrease in most street crime. However, the KNPA also reported a 40% increase in sexual violence against foreigners from 2008 to 2015. Major crime is associated with organised crime groups, which operate mainly in the construction and real-estate sectors, in addition to drug trafficking, extortions, loan sharking, and prostitution.

Last update: July 2, 2020

War Risks

Although North Korea and South Korea are technically still at war, ongoing attempts at diplomacy mitigate the risk. The truce tends to be punctuated by periods of heightened risk of escalation towards unintended conflict, either following North Korean provocations or during US-South Korea joint military exercises. Full-scale conflict remains unlikely mainly because of diplomatic efforts and because neither North Korea nor the United States is likely to cross the other's redlines. In the unlikely event of war, North Korea would probably target Incheon and Seoul, among other cities, with artillery and missile fire, resulting in severe loss of life and extensive property damage.

Last update: July 3, 2020

Social Stability

Elevated

Protests are common in Seoul but are usually peaceful. Issues triggering protests include political scandals, the government’s lack of progress in delivering promised economic reforms, and anti-Japanese sentiment. In addition, strikes occur regularly each year in South Korea's automotive sector. Occasionally, truckers and railway workers hold sympathy strikes, disrupting cargo transport. Strikes at manufacturing plants can turn violent, with workers occupying facilities and fighting with the police, but the risk of property damage is low. Security forces are highly effective at controlling demonstrations, including using tear-gas-laced water cannons.

Last update: July 3, 2020

Health Risk

Elevated

Vaccinations required to enter the country

No vaccinations are required to enter the country.

Routine Vaccinations

Hepatitis A: A vaccine is available for anyone over one year of age. The vaccine may not be effective for certain people, e.g. those born before 1945 and who lived as a child in a developing country and/or have a past history of jaundice (icterus). These people can instead get a shot of immune globulin (IG) to boost their immunity against the disease.

Hepatitis B: A vaccine is available for children at least two months old.

Diphtheria-Tetanus-Polio: A booster shot should be administered if necessary (once every ten years).

Other Vaccinations

Typhoid Fever: If your travels take you to regions with poor sanitary conditions (for children two years old and up).

Japanese Encephalitis: For stays of longer than one month in a rural zone during the rainy season (for children over the age of one). The vaccine is administered in a local medical facility.

Malaria Recommended preventive medication for travel to the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) or to rural areas in the north of the country (Gyeonggi and Gangwon provinces) - chloroquine (sometimes marketed as Nivaquine).

For Children: All standard childhood immunizations should be up-to-date. In the case of a long stay, the BCG vaccine is recommended for children over one month and the MMR (measles-mumps-rubella) vaccine for children over nine months.

Last update: April 5, 2019

Natural Risks

Severe

Monsoon season (July-September) brings regular flooding and typhoons; the southern regions are particularly vulnerable. Typhoon Maemi killed 100 people in September 2003. Typhoon Kompasu, the strongest storm to hit the region in 15 years, struck South Korea in early September 2010, leaving three dead and significant material damage in its wake. In October 2016, Typhoon Chaba struck the cities of Busan and Ulsan, resulting in dozens of casualties.

In the event of flooding, travelers are advised to refrain from driving in affected regions, to avoid underground areas (basements, subways), and visiting flood-prone and coastal zones (either on foot or by car).

It should also be noted that air pollution levels usually reach their peak in July and August.

Last update: April 5, 2019

Practical Information

Climate

Spring and fall are sunny and dry. Summer, monsoon season, is hot (30°C to 35°C) and very rainy. Winter, which begins in late November and lasts until early March, can be harsh (with temperatures falling to -10°C).

Useful Numbers

Country Code: +82
Police: 112
Fire Dept.: 119
Ambulance: 119

Electricity

Voltage: 220 V ~ 60 Hz

Outlets:

Last update: April 5, 2019