Big, varied delegation shows Park is all business

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Big, varied delegation shows Park is all business

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From left, Lee Kun-hee, Samsung, Chung Mong-koo, Hyundai, Koo Bon-moo, LG,Huh Chang-soo, GS / FKI

Despite the new administration’s tightened regulations of chaebol amid its push for economic democratization, President Park Geun-hye will bring along probably the largest number of business delegates of any president in her first official visit to the United States Sunday.

According to business lobby groups such as the Federation of Korean Industries (FKI) and the Korea Chamber of Commerce and Industry (KCCI) as well as individual corporations and political sources, up to 50 leaders of major conglomerates, financial groups and smaller enterprises will accompany Park on the six-day trip.

“The president’s first official U.S. visit is largely interpreted as an investor relations session for Korea on the global stage,” said an FKI spokesman. “It assumes a more business-centered role than ever this time, given the recent standoff between the two Koreas, and it is highly necessary for the president to promote Korea as a safe investment outlet.”

It has been routine for conglomerate leaders to join presidents on official overseas trips, but an unprecedentedly large number of smaller enterprises and startups are traveling with Park, who has openly supported them making forays abroad. The number of leaders of large corporations joining the president is similar to preceding administrations, the FKI spokesman added.

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From left, Sohn Kyung-shik, KCCI, Hong Ky-tack, KDB, Han Dong-woo, Shinhan, Kim Jung-tae, Hana

Conglomerate chairmen in the delegation include Lee Kun-hee of Samsung, Chung Mong-koo of Hyundai Motor Group, Koo Bon-moo of LG and Huh Chang-soo of GS Holdings, who also heads the FKI. Top leaders of Posco, Hanjin, Kumho Asiana, Lotte and Doosan are also part of the group. The financial sector will be represented by the chairmen of Korea Development Bank and Shinhan and Hana Financial Groups.

This will be the first time in nine years that Samsung Chairman Lee participates in a president’s official overseas visit; Lee accompanied the late President Roh Moo-hyun in Kazakhstan and Russia in 2004. During Lee Myung-bak’s presidency, the 71-year-old chairman kept a low profile as his health deteriorated and he was involved in a slush fund scandal. He stepped down in 2008 from the post in the aftermath of the incident and regained leadership of the tech empire in 2010.

When conglomerate-friendly former President Lee made his first official U.S. trip in April 2008, 26 chairmen joined him. From Samsung, then-Vice Chairman Yun Jong-yong went on behalf of Chairman Lee. Hyundai’s Chung and LG’s Koo later got together with the president in Japan, following his U.S. visit.

The Park government, from the beginning, has been stepping up pressure on large enterprises - chaebol, in particular - to boost social responsibility by investing and hiring more and cooperating with their smaller business partners. Although previous administrations held a meeting between the president and top 30 business leaders within two months of taking office, Park has yet to do so. Speculation is that the U.S. trip will be a golden opportunity for Park to have in-depth conversations with them.

By Seo Ji-eun [spring@joongang.co.kr]

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