The Republic of Korea maintains diplomatic relations with more than 170 countries and a broad network of trading relationships. The United States and Korea are allied by the 1954 Mutual Defense Treaty. Korea and Japan coordinate closely on numerous issues. This includes consultations with the United States on North Korea policy.
Economic considerations have a high priority in Korean foreign policy. The ROK seeks to build on its economic accomplishments to increase its regional and global role. It is a founding member of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum.
Since the Korean War, relations between North and South Korea have been strained. Official contact did not occur until in 1971, beginning with Red Cross contacts and family reunification projects. However, divergent positions on the process of reunification, North Korean weapons programs and South Korea's tumultuous domestic politics contributed to a cycle of warming and cooling of relations between North and South.
Relations improved following the 1997 election of Kim Dae-jung. His policy of "Sunshine Policy" of engagement with North Korea set the stage for the historic June 2000 Inter-Korean summit. President Kim was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2000 for the policy.
Relations have again become tense, however, following the October 2002 North Korean admission of a covert nuclear program.
Disputes - international: Military Demarcation Line within the 4-km wide Korean Demilitarized Zone has separated North from South Korea since 1953; Liancourt Rocks (Take-shima/Tok-do) are disputed with Japan.