Park first leader to tour Mulae

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Park first leader to tour Mulae

Mulae-dong in Yeongdeungpo District, southwestern Seoul, once flourished as the capital’s ironworks as Korea rapidly industrialized between the 1960s and 1980s. As industry declined, businesses went bust or left town and money-stricken artists started moving in starting in the 1990s in search of cheaper rents.

Mulae Art Village, now home to nearly 300 artists and 1,300 small metal-processing companies, was visited Friday by President Park Geun-hye as she celebrated the opening of a center specially designed to support businesses with fewer than 10 employees.

No president has ever paid a visit to the ironworks district in the past 50 years, according to the Blue House.

The president said that Mulae District, where “industry and culture already coexist,” is a nice example of her signature “creative economy” ambitions.

“When the best skills of Mulae’s business operators and the sense of beauty of artists here meet, quality products carrying the ‘Mulae’ label could be born,” she said.

“And if the sales channels are diversified through public supply markets or electronic transactions, the producers could find a new breakthrough beyond simply receiving orders as subcontractors.”

Park further promised that the government would boost aid to 178 small industrial districts similar to Mulae and help them join hands with large companies to improve their business.

Her unusual visit to the area was made possible by Rep. Chun Soon-ok of the main opposition New Politics Alliance for Democracy.

Accompanying the president on her trip to three Central Asian nations in June - the first opposition lawmaker to do so under the Park government - Rep. Chun had a 30-minute private conversation with the president on Air Force One.

Chun explained to the president the ever-challenging business environment for smaller operators and their struggles, and the president accepted her proposal to pay a visit to Mulae District someday to get an example, according to the lawmaker.

The president and the lawmaker have an interesting history. A former laborer in a textile factory, Chun has long represented laborers’ rights, following in the footsteps of her older brother Tae-il, a textile industry worker in Seoul who fatally set fire to himself at the age of 22 in 1970 to publicize the plight of garment industry workers under the government of Park Chung Hee, the president’s father, which severely clamped down on the labor movement.

The incumbent president attempted to visit the Chun Tae-il Foundation during her presidential campaign in 2012, but her entrance was blocked by labor rights activists for what they called her conservative stand on labor rights issues. Among the opponents was Representative Chun.

The president was accompanied to Mulae by Rep. Chun and the ruling Saenuri Party’s Lee Hyun-jae, who has led fund-raising for smaller business operators, as well as eight ironworkers based in the district. All of them sat down at the newly opened support center and exchanged ideas about how to transform and develop the district.


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