officially Democratic People's Republic of Korea
Country, East Asia, occupying the northern half of the Korean peninsula. Area: 47,399 sq mi (122,762 sq km). Population (2005 est.): 22,488,000. Capital: P'yŏngyang. Ethnically, the population is almost completely Korean. Language: Korean (official). Religions: Ch'ŏndogyo, traditional beliefs, Christianity, Buddhism. Foreign missionaries were expelled during World War II. Currency: won. North Korea's land area largely consists of mountain ranges and uplands; its highest peak is the volcanic Mount Paektu (9,022 ft [2,750 m]). North Korea has a centrally planned economy based on heavy industry (iron and steel, machinery, chemicals, and textiles) and agriculture. Cooperative farms raise crops such as rice, corn, barley, and vegetables. The country is rich in mineral resources, including coal, iron ore, and magnesite. It is a republic with one legislature; the head of state and government is the chairman of the National Defense Commission. For early history, see Korea. After the Japanese were defeated in World War II, the Soviet Union occupied Korea north of latitude 38° N; there the Democratic People's Republic of Korea was established as a communist state in 1948. Seeking to unify the peninsula by force, it launched an invasion of South Korea in 1950, initiating the Korean War. UN troops intervened on the side of South Korea, and Chinese soldiers reinforced the North Korean army in the war, which ended with an armistice in 1953. Led by Kim Il-sung, North Korea became one of the most harshly regimented societies in the world, with a state-owned economy that failed to produce adequate supplies of food and consumer goods for its citizens. Under his son and successor, Kim Jong Il, the country endured periods of severe food shortages from the late 1990s that caused widespread famine. Hopes that North Korea was seeking to end its long isolation—notably through meetings between Kim and the leaders of South Korea (2000) and Japan (2002)—have been tempered by concerns over its nuclear weapons program.
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Encyclopedia Britannica, 2008. Encyclopedia Britannica Online.