Finance minister, banks pull out of ADB meeting

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Finance minister, banks pull out of ADB meeting

The ongoing national mourning over the Sewol tragedy is affecting Korea’s participation in international events.

The Finance Ministry announced Wednesday that Finance Minister Hyun Oh-seok canceled his attendance of the Asian Development Bank’s annual meeting, which is to be held on Saturday in Asatna, Kazakhstan. The ministry said the decision was made after considering the domestic situation, particularly the sinking of the Sewol. Hyun reportedly is prioritizing the disaster by staying to monitor the negative economic impact it is having rather than attending international events.

The ferry sinking has taken a toll on the government. Public dissatisfaction over the government’s mismanagement of the initial rescue effort and the process of recovering bodies has been building steadily. The anger led Prime Minister Chung Hong-won to tender his resignation and now pressure is increasing for a major cabinet reshuffle that could include the finance minister.

This is not the first time that Hyun has canceled on an ADB meeting. Last year, Hyun made a late decision not to attend the meeting in New Delhi. He excused himself saying he had to focus on passing the economic-stimulus supplementary budget at the National Assembly.

Curiosity had been growing about whether the three finance ministers from Korea, China and Japan would finally meet in Kazakhstan this year.

The meeting of the three, which was set to be the biggest event on the sidelines of the ADB conference, was not held last year as geopolitical tensions had been rising over Japanese government officials’ visits to Tokyo’s Yasukuni shrine and a territorial dispute had been flaring between China and Japan over the Senkaku Islands, known as the Diaoyus in China.

The finance minister isn’t the only one canceling his trip to Kazakhstan. The heads of Korean banks, who rarely miss the annual event, have also decided not to attend.

KB Financial Group Chairman Lim Young-rok has not missed an ADB meeting since he became president of the company in August 2010. From Hanoi in 2011 to India last year, he goes to the conference to strengthen his bank’s international ties.

KB Financial Group flagship KB Kookmin Bank president Lee Kun-ho is also not attending the meeting.

The situation is the same for other banks whether private or government-owned including Woori Bank, Korea Development Bank (KDB), Korea Exchange Bank (KEB) and even Industrial Bank of Korea (IBK).

The only bank heads that will be in Kazakhstan are Shinhan Bank President Seo Jin-won, Export-Import Bank of Korea President Lee Duk-hoon and Bank of Korea governor Lee Ju-yeol, who will attend his first ADB meeting as head of the central bank.

This is the lowest ADB attendance from the Korean financial industry since Korea became a member in 1966.

The ADB meeting has been a venue for diplomatic marketing for financial companies with other major financial institutions as well as the governments of the member countries. In 2012, after Hana Financial Group bought a majority share of Korea Exchange Bank, Hana announced its global ambitions in front of government officials and global bankers at the ADB conference in Manila.

But the year has not been favorable to banks, whose images have soured after numerous personal information leaks, swindles and scams perpetrated by employees and bad loans.

“The heads of banks are trying to keep things low key at this point,” a bank official requesting anonymity said. “The public images of banks at this point is bad and going to international events doing diplomatic marketing isn’t going to help much.”

The official said that bank heads are currently trying to straighten up and restore trust from their customers here in Korea.

BY LEE HO-JEONG [ojlee82@joongang.co.kr]


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