Back to businessWhen the president of Korea visits another country, competition among companies to join the economic delegation is fierce. A former high-level trade ministry official recalls Ahn Jong-beom, former President Park Geun-hye’s economic affairs secretary, ordering him to include Y. Jacobs Medical in her economic delegation. Choi Soon-sil, a confidante of the former president, testified in court that she had helped KD Corporation secure a spot in Park’s economic delegation during her Southeast Asia tour in 2013 and France visit in 2016.
When a company accompanies the president overseas, it can project the image that it represents Korea in the international community. Domestically, it also signals a good relationship with the administration, which is why small and midsize companies are especially eager to join. The wife of Y. Jacobs Medical’s owner and the CEO of KD are said to have given cash and Chanel bags to Choi in order to get on the list. The Blue House needs to be selective when forming its economic delegations. For a visit to the United States, the delegation typically includes about 30 people, including heads of business organizations and conglomerate chairmen, but even a major company can be ruled out if the owner or company is involved in a controversial issue.
And depending on where the president is visiting, a different business group accompanies the president: the Federation of Korean Industries for a U.S. visit, the Korea Chamber of Commerce and Industry for China and the Korea International Trade Association for Europe.
Park broke these customs. First, she drastically expanded the size of her delegation. On her first visit to the United States in May 2013, she brought with her the largest economic delegation in history, 51 people. It continued to grow in subsequent visits, to 72 for China, 79 for Vietnam and 105 for Germany. By the time she made her second U.S. trip in October 2015, the delegation had grown to 166.
The entity that recruited and selected the participating companies was also changed from the business groups to the Blue House, with the justification of giving more opportunities to small and medium-sized businesses. However, it has since been revealed that the economic delegations were exploited for personal gains.
With President Moon Jae-in making his first trip to the United States later this month, the economic delegation is currently in the works, and the selection process has been returned to the private sector. The Federation of Korean Industries, which has traditionally been in charge of U.S. visits, has been ruled out, and the Korea Chamber of Commerce is facilitating the process. They have considered changing the delegation label to “business group” or “business people support group” because, they said, they represent the private sector and it would be inappropriate to call themselves a “delegation,” which suggests a mission sent to represent the nation. These are the changes that have been implemented in the aftermath of the Park-Choi corruption scandal. We hope the ongoing efforts will correct our stained past.
JoongAng Ilbo, June 20, Page 31
*The author is an editorial writer for the JoongAng Ilbo.