As early as the 1960s, when the country's five-year economic development plan was first implemented, the Korean economy has relentlessly shown signs of exponential growth. From 1962 to 2005, the country's GNI surged from US$2.3 billion to a staggering US$786.8 billion. The 1997 East Asian foreign currency crisis was only a temporary set-back for the Korean economy. The GNI stagnated at US$340.4 in 1998 but soon began to advance again, soaring to US$955.8 billion by 2007.
Years of rapid economic development propelled the country into becoming the world's 12th largest trading partner. Korea's industrial base shifted from agriculture to manufacturing and is now shifting to services. A global force in a number of significant industries, including automobiles, petrochemicals, electronics, shipbuilding, textiles, and steel, Korea’s GDP expanded 5.0% in 2007 and 2.5% in 2008. GDP in 2007 totaled US$969.8 billion, making the country the 14th largest economy.
Since 2004, Korean-made semi-conductors, automobiles, and wireless telecom devices have accounted for over 30% of the country's total trade volume. Exports of IT products have risen every year since 1998 and reached US$82.5 billion, or 29.5% of total exports, in 2005. Major IT export items include memory chips, mobile phones, LCD monitors, PCs, and satellite broadcasting receivers. Korea’s semi-conductor industry, in particular, has achieved tremendous growth over the past two decades and is the third largest in the world.
The system of government in Korea is based on a system of checks and balances between the executive branch, the legislature, and the judiciary. The president is elected directly for a single five-year-term. South Korea’s 17th president, Lee Myung-Bak, was sworn in to office on February 25, 2008. Overcoming many obstacles throughout his youth, Lee garnered enormous success in both his business and political career. Shortly after joining Hyundai Engineering & Construction Co., Ltd, he soon earned the title of CEO and led the company through years of continued prosperity. From 2002 to 2006, he was successively appointed the governor of Seoul, and on December 19, 2007, won the presidential bid with an unprecedented 48.7% of the vote.