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Diplomacy in Action

U.S. Relations With South Korea


Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs
Fact Sheet
January 31, 2014

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More information about South Korea is available on the South Korea Page and from other Department of State publications and other sources listed at the end of this fact sheet.

U.S.-SOUTH KOREA RELATIONS

The United States and Korea’s Joseon Dynasty established diplomatic relations under the 1882 Treaty of Peace, Amity, Commerce, and Navigation, and the first U.S. diplomatic envoy arrived in Korea in 1883. U.S.-Korea relations continued until 1905, when Japan assumed direction over Korean foreign affairs. In 1910, Japan began a 35-year period of colonial rule over Korea. Following Japan's surrender in 1945, at the end of World War II, the Korean Peninsula was divided at the 38th parallel into two occupation zones, with the United States in the South and the Soviet Union in the North. Initial hopes for a unified, independent Korea were not realized, and in 1948 two separate nations were established -- the Republic of Korea (ROK) in the South, and the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) in the North. In 1949, the United States established diplomatic relations with South Korea.

On June 25, 1950, North Korean forces invaded South Korea. Led by the United States, a United Nations coalition of 16 countries undertook the defense of South Korea. Following China's entry into the war on behalf of North Korea later that year, a stalemate ensued for the final two years of the conflict until an armistice was concluded on July 27, 1953. A peace treaty has never been signed. In 1953, at the conclusion of the Korean War, the United States and the Republic of Korea signed a Mutual Defense Treaty, the foundation of a comprehensive alliance that endures today.

In the decades after the war, South Korea experienced political turmoil under autocratic leadership, but developed a vocal civil society that led to strong protests against authoritarian rule. Pro-democracy activities intensified in the 1980s and South Korea began the transition to what is now a vibrant, democratic system. U.S.-South Korea ties are based on common values of democracy, human rights, and the rule of law.

The United States and South Korea share a long history of friendship and cooperation based on common values and interests. The two countries work together to combat regional and global threats and to strengthen their economies. The United States has maintained Army, Air Force, Navy, and Marine personnel in South Korea in support of its commitment under the U.S.-R.O.K. Mutual Defense Treaty to help South Korea defend itself against external aggression. In 2013, the two countries celebrated the 60th anniversary of the U.S.-South Korea alliance. A Combined Forces Command coordinates operations between U.S. units and South Korean armed forces. The United States and South Korea coordinate closely on the North Korean nuclear issue and the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. As South Korea's economy has developed (Korea joined the OECD in 1996), trade and investment ties have become an increasingly important aspect of the U.S.-South Korea relationship.

In recent years, the U.S.-South Korea alliance has expanded into a deep, comprehensive global partnership, and South Korea’s role as a regional and global leader continues to grow. South Korea hosted the 2010 G-20 Summit, the 2011 Fourth High-Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness, the 2012 Nuclear Security Summit, and the 2013 Seoul Conference on Cyberspace. South Korea is a committed member of various international nonproliferation regimes, including the Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI) and the Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism (GICNT). The United States and South Korea are also expanding cooperation on development assistance and aid.

People-to-people ties between the United States and South Korea have never been stronger. South Korea, on a per capita basis, sends the highest number of students to the United States to study of any industrialized country. Educational exchanges include a vibrant Fulbright exchange program as well as the Work, English Study, and Travel (WEST) program that gives a diverse group of South Korean students the opportunity to learn more about the United States.

U.S. Assistance to South Korea

The United States provides no development assistance to South Korea. South Korea, a recipient of U.S. assistance in the years after the Korean War, is a development aid donor today.

Bilateral Economic Relations

Over the past several decades, South Korea has achieved a remarkably high level of economic growth and is now the United States' sixth-largest goods trading partner with a trillion-dollar economy. Major U.S. firms have long been leading investors in South Korea, while South Korea's top firms have made significant investments in the United States. There are large-scale flows of manufactured goods, agricultural products, services, and technology between the two countries. The landmark Korea-U.S. Free Trade Agreement (KORUS FTA) entered into force on March 15, 2012, underscoring the depth of bilateral trade ties. The agreement is expected to boost exports by billions of dollars annually for both sides and create new export-related jobs in both South Korea and the United States.

South Korea's Membership in International Organizations

South Korea and the United States belong to a number of the same international organizations, including the United Nations, G-20, Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum, Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Regional Forum, International Monetary Fund, World Bank, and World Trade Organization. South Korea hosts the Green Climate Fund, an international organization associated with the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. South Korea also is a Partner for Cooperation with the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe and an observer to the Organization of American States.

Bilateral Representation

The U.S. Ambassador to South Korea is Sung Y. Kim; other principal embassy officials are listed in the Department's Key Officers List.

South Korea maintains an embassy in the United States at 2450 Massachusetts Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20008 (tel. 202-939-5600).

More information about South Korea is available from the Department of State and other sources, some of which are listed here:

Department of State South Korea Country Page
Department of State Key Officers List
CIA World Factbook South Korea Page
International Travel Information for South Korea
U.S. Embassy Seoul, South Korea
U.S. American Presence Post Busan
Embassy of the Republic of Korea in Washington, DC
U.S.-Republic of Korea Free Trade Agreement
U.S. Forces Korea
Human Rights Reports
International Religious Freedom Reports
Trafficking in Persons Reports
Narcotics Control Reports
Investment Climate Statements
Office of the U.S. Trade Representative Countries Page
U.S. Census Bureau Foreign Trade Statistics
Export.gov International Offices Page
Library of Congress Country Studies
Travel and Business Information



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