The Korean Peninsula lies in the north-eastern part of the Asian continent. It is bordered to the north by Russia and China, to the east by the East Sea and Japan, and to the west by the Yellow Sea. In addition to the mainland, South Korea comprises around 3,200 islands. At 99,313 sq km, the country is slightly larger than Austria. Put another way, South Korea is more than one third the size of New Zealand but has a population of 51 million. It has one of the highest population densities in the world, after Bangladesh and Taiwan, with more than 50% of its population living in the country’s six largest cities.
Korea has a history spanning 5,000 years and you will find evidence of its rich and varied heritage in the many temples, palaces and city gates. These sit alongside contemporary architecture that reflects the growing economic importance of South Korea as an industrialised nation. In 1948 Korea divided into North Korea and South Korea. North Korea was allied to the USSR and South Korea to the USA. The divide between the two countries at Panmunjom is one of the world’s most heavily fortified frontiers. Surrounded on three sides by the ocean, it is easy to see how South Korea became a world leader in shipbuilding.
Centres of Business
- Seoul – is the capital of South Korea and its largest commercial centre. With a population of around 10 million, it is one of the largest cities in the world. The Seoul National Capital Area, which is generally referred to as Sudogwon, is the second-largest metropolitan area in the world. It has over 24.5 million inhabitants and includes the Incheon metropolis and most of Gyeonggi province. There are a range of industrial clusters outside Seoul, including Osong Bio-Technopolis; South Korea’s first biotechnology cluster, located 170km south of Seoul. Osong is designated as a special zone for foreign direct investment, securing US $260 million to date. Foreign companies seeking to invest in the complex will be exempt from rent and corporate taxes for five to seven years, with additional tax benefits offered by the local government.
- South East Coast and Ulsan – is where South Korea’s world-leading shipbuilding cluster is located. The cluster is home to manufacturers of steel plates, steel structures and engines, as well as colleges specialising in shipbuilding and marine engineering. Ulsan shipyard is currently the largest in the world and has the capacity to build a variety of vessels, including commercial cargo, offshore and naval.
- Busan (officially Busan Metropolitan City and formerly spelled Pusan) – is the second-largest metropolis in South Korea after Seoul. It is the largest port city in the country and the fifth-largest port in the world. Busan has played host to several high-profile international business and sporting events, including the APEC Economic Leaders Meeting in 2005. The largest department store in the world, Shinsegae Centum City, is located here and Busan is building many super-skyscrapers, including the 110-floor Lotte Super Tower.
- Incheon (officially Incheon Metropolitan City) – is part of the Seoul National Capital Area and is the third-largest urban area in South Korea, behind Seoul and Busan. Incheon is the country’s most important transport hub, housing the largest port on the west coast and the country’s largest airport. Global business is centred around the hi-tech Songdo International City, which is the site of South Korea’s tallest building, the Northeast Asia Trade Tower. Incheon was South Korea’s first Free Economic Zone, providing various types of government services to promote foreign investment. For example, English is the official language for government documents in this area and, in September 2010, the Chadwick International School, the first in the region, opened in the Songdo district. Incheon’s goal is to transform three of its districts (Songdo, Yeongjong and Cheongna) into the logistics, leisure & tourism, and international business hubs of the Northeast Asia region. Incheon hosted the Asian Games in 2014. It beat off India to host the Games and is the third city in South Korea after Seoul (1986) and Busan (2002) to stage the event.
- Songdo – this district of Incheon is aiming to become a global city of hi-tech knowledge and international business. The Samsung Group recently announced a US $266 million venture with partner Quintiles Transnational Corp. to make biological drugs here. The new plant, which will contract-make medicines from living cells, will help Samsung to tap into South Korea’s massive biopharmaceuticals market, which is contracted to manufacture five of the world’s 10 best-selling medicines.
- Yeongjong – is aiming to become an international logistics city. It is the site of Incheon International Airport and harbour. Expansion plans for the airport include creating a free trade zone, an international business district and a special economic zone. In March 2009, it was named Best Airport Worldwide in the Airport Service Quality Awards.
- Daegu (officially the Daegu Metropolitan City) – is one of the largest metropolitan areas in South Korea, with more than 2.5 million people. The city is located in the south-east of the country, about 80km from the coast. It is a centre for fashion, textiles, and hi-tech industries.
- Pyeongchang – Pyeongchang hosted the Winter Olympics in 2018.
- Other major centres in South Korea include: Suwon, Goyang, Seongnam and Bucheon.