Park to visit France father dreamt ofFormer President Park Chung Hee always had an affinity for France, and his love for French history evidently shaped his lifelong ambitions.
After reading a biography of Napoleon Bonaparte, the first self-styled emperor of the French, a young Park decided that he, too, wanted to one day become a general. Early on, he also developed an admiration for Charles de Gaulle, the first president of the French Fifth Republic from 1959 to 1969.
And during a conversation in April 1971 with Frederique Max, the French ambassador to Korea at the time, President Park even admitted to learning French history in school, against the will of his Japanese teacher.
But despite such a strong interest, and even after spending 18 years in office, Park Chung Hee never visited France, which came to be a close ally of Korea.
And according to documents compiled from the archives of France’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, a complicated story lies behind it.
Those documents and other stories detailing Park’s connection to France are chronicled in a new book by Jung Sang-chun, the head of Inter-Korean Cooperation District Support Directorate at the Ministry of Unification.
His Korean-language book, “Korea and France: Stories Unknown Even to Napoleon,” published yesterday, was built around archives he read at the library of the French Foreign Ministry while studying for a doctorate degree in Paris from 1994 to1995, and again in 2000.
Jung, who worked at the Korean Ministry of Foreign Affairs for 15 years before being dispatched to the Unification Ministry for a year, photocopied nearly 3,200 pages of historical records detailing diplomatic relations between the two countries. That includes the reasons behind Park’s never-realized trip to France.
In December 1964, President Park Chung Hee embarked on a trip to Europe for the first time as Korean president. The initial itinerary included visits to France, Germany and Egypt. But due to budget constraints, his delegation only made it to Germany.
At the time, Korea didn’t have a private jet for state affairs, and the $500,000 to rent a plane for a week was too costly.
This dilemma was partially resolved after the German government offered to have one of its Lufthansa planes make a stopover in Seoul en route between Tokyo and Bonn. While the president made it to Germany, he had to give up on his visits to France and Egypt, as he believed it was inappropriate for a Korean leader to use German resources for state business.
Seven years later, three months ahead of Korea’s presidential election, Park again made plans to visit France. But the plan fell through a second time after the French government expressed concern that the visit came just one month before the election and in close proximity to a planned visit by Kim Dae-jung, the opposition’s presidential candidate.
But on Saturday, President Park Geun-hye will finally achieve the dream never realized by her father as she makes her first official visit to Europe since becoming president in February. Her weeklong state visit to Europe includes three days in Paris, with stops in Britain and Belgium.
Under her father’s influence, Park Geun-hye learned French as a child. In 1974, after graduating from Sogang University in Seoul, she left for France to continue her studies. However, her time in Europe was cut short later that year after her mother was shot and killed by Mun Se-gwang, a North Korean sympathizer from Japan who failed in his attempt to assassinate Park Chung Hee.
Jung’s book also makes significant mention of Roger Chambard, the first French ambassador to Korea after Korea’s liberation from Japanese colonial rule. He was stationed in Korea for 10 years from 1959 and had a particularly close relationship with Park Chung Hee. He encouraged Park to visit France and played a decisive role in persuading French companies to invest in and transfer technologies to the Paldang hydroelectric plant in Gyeonggi.
When Chambard died in 1982, his cremated remains were scattered in Haein Temple in Hapcheon, South Gyeongsang. His grandson, Olivier Chambard, now deputy director for the Africa and Indian Ocean Department in French Foreign Affairs, is currently the nominee to be the next French ambassador to Korea.
BY CHUNG WON-YEOP, SEO JI-EUN [firstname.lastname@example.org]