Korea, France agree to boost ties in technology, creative industries

KOREA - President Park Geun-hye held a summit with French President Francois Hollande in Paris on Monday and agreed to boost cooperation in advanced technology and finance for overall expansion of economic ties.

The two leaders discussed ways to broaden exchanges by simplifying visa procedures and to enable financial support for advancements by French and Korean companies to third countries such as in Africa.

For cooperation in creative industries, the two leaders shared views on projects including the provision of batteries for electric vehicles and investment in biopharmaceuticals.

The two leaders also discussed ways to harness France's cultural strength in Korea's drive for a creative economy as its main growth engine, and France's support in Korea's peace initiatives for the Korean Peninsula and the Northeast Asian region.

On the same day, Park arranged a special meeting with the wife of a former governor of Isere, who had reportedly taken good care of the president when she was studying there 39 years ago. Park, the daughter of former President Park Chung-hee, had gone to France at age 22 with the dream of becoming a professor.

Park also met with leading business representatives of Korea and France and, in a speech delivered in French, underscored the Seoul government's push for wider economic ties.

Park's three-day visit to France was highlighted on Sunday by cultural events, including a Korean TV drama festival, a meeting with UNESCO chief Irina Bokova and a visit to the Orsay Museum.

Park watched French fans of Korean TV dramas sing and dance to the tunes of theme songs of popular series as she sought to promote Korean culture. The Korean "Drama Party" was voluntarily organised by a French fan club of Korean dramas called Bonjour Coree, officials said.

During the event held at the Espace Pierre Cardin performance hall, video clips of popular dramas such as "Princess Hours," "Boys Over Flowers" and "Full House" were shown as hundreds of French fans applauded. French winners in K-pop contests and then danced to drama theme songs.

"Culture can be the first step to understanding each other, and it has an amazing power to help the people of two countries come together," Park told the audience after appearing on the stage amid cheers. "I hope South Korea and France will become even closer through culture."

In her meeting with Bokova, Park touched on the nomination of kimjang, the traditional practice of making kimchi before winter, to be included on UNESCO's Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity list and expressed her respect for UNESCO's efforts to protect cultural assets.

They also agreed that efforts to preserve assets such as ancient tomb murals could serve as a means of cooperation between the two Koreas through the mediation of UNESCO. Park also urged Bokova's support in Korea's bid to host the 2015 World Conference on Education.

Bokova praised South Korea as a good example of a country that pays close attention to preserving traditional culture while at the same time seeking economic growth by combining modern culture and industries, according to the presidential office.

In her meeting with South Korean residents in France, Park recalled her time in the country, saying she had fond memories. Park had returned home after the assassination of her mother, former first lady Yuk Young-soo, in 1974.

"Close to 40 years has passed since then. I am filled with emotions as I've come back to France as president," she said.

Meanwhile, Park's European tour was received bitterly at home, as the main opposition Democratic Party criticised her remarks made during an interview with the French media.

Park had commented in an interview with Le Figaro that Korea was not returning to an authoritative structure just because demands by the opposition were not fulfilled.

DP floor leader Jun Byung-hun argued that Park was "advertising herself as an uncommunicative president" internationally while touring overseas.

"President Park is blaming all problems on the opposition even while overseas. She is, in other words, showing her 'incommunicative style' abroad, which is a shame for both herself and the people," Jun said.

By Lee Joo-hee and news reports (jhl@heraldcorp.com)