(News Focus) Park bags 'creative economy' partnership from European trip

By Chang Jae-soon

BRUSSELS, Nov. 8 (Yonhap) -- South Korean President Park Geun-hye wrapped up a week-long trip to France, Britain and Belgium on Friday after forging partnerships with the leading European economies to pursue new engines in order to power future growth.

Park's pitch for her signature "creative economy" drive -- the overarching economic growth strategy of her presidency -- was a fixture in every summit she held along the way, and she won promises from her counterparts to work closely together for the cause.

The policy calls for blending information technology with culture and other realms to create novel industries and more jobs. Park believes the existing paradigm of economic growth has reached its limit, as it is unable to address high unemployment and widening economic inequalities.

Another mission of the trip was to win backing from the leading players in global diplomacy for her vision for regional peace, which includes the "Korean Peninsula trust process" and the "Northeast Asia peace and cooperation initiative." All three countries and the European Union leaders expressed full support for them.

Park and all of her counterparts were also in full agreement that a nuclear North Korea is unacceptable under any circumstances and that the communist nation must scrap its nuclear program in a complete, verifiable and irreversible manner.

Park first stopped in France, making a glorious return to a place she left in bitter tears. In 1974 she was studying in France, but she was called back to Korea to serve as a stand-in first lady after her mother was shot and killed in a failed assassination attempt on her father, President Park Chung-hee.

Her summit with French President Francois Hollande centered on high-tech cooperation.

Like Park, Hollande has been seeking a strategy similar to her creative economy vision. In September, he launched 34 futuristic projects aimed at realizing the country's "industrial renaissance," such as driverless cars, nanotechnology and electric aircraft.

After their summit, the two sides said in a joint statement that they noted similarities in South Korea's creative economy policy and France's new industrial policy, and "agreed to work together to create new growth engines by facilitating exchanges and cooperation in science-technology and high-tech industries."

Other points of agreement included simplifying France's visa issuance process for Korean business people, strengthening cooperation in civilian nuclear power and safety, military and defense, as well as in education and culture, according to the statement.

The highlight of Park's European trip was the state visit to Britain.

The four-day trip to London marked the second-ever state visit to Britain by a South Korean president. The late President Roh Moo-hyun made the first in 2004. Britain invites only two foreign leaders for state visits each year -- one in the first half and the other in the second half.

On Tuesday, she received an elaborate ceremonial welcome at Buckingham Palace, arriving in a horse-drawn, golden royal coach with Queen Elizabeth II and her husband Prince Philip. She then attended a lunch and a state banquet hosted by the monarch.

Park also attended a groundbreaking ceremony for the first Korean War monument in Britain that honors the country's participation in the 1950-53 Korean War.

On Wednesday, she held a summit with British Prime Minister David Cameron and agreed to double trade and investment volume between the two countries by 2020, strengthen partnership in nuclear energy projects and work closely together to develop future growth engines.

Trade and investment volumes between South Korea and Britain amounted to $11.26 billion and $22.8 billion last year, respectively. Wednesday's agreement calls for increasing trade and investment to $20 billion and $45 billion, respectively.

A total of 11 MOUs were signed in the finance sector, including one calling for cooperation between financial regulators in sharing information and knowhow. The deal is expected to help South Korea learn from Britain's advanced financial oversight system.

The two sides also signed seven MOUs in nuclear and renewable energy and infrastructure sectors. In particular, the deal on comprehensive nuclear power cooperation between Seoul's industry ministry and Britain's energy and climate change department is seen as a first step toward exporting atomic power plants to the European nation.

The visit to Belgium also focused on economic cooperation, including her creative economy vision.

Park and Belgian Prime Minister Elio Di Rupo agreed to continue to expand trade and investment by making better use of the free trade agreement with the European Union, the presidential office said. Two-way trade has been on the rise from US$3.1 billion in 2010 to $3.7 billion in 2011 and $3.65 billion last year.

They also agreed to push for a science and technology pact to lay the groundwork for greater cooperation in seeking new economic growth engines under Park's creative economy vision.

On the sideline of the visit, major EU firms made investment commitments worth a total of $370 million. Chemical firm Solvay plans to build a chemical manufacturing plant in southwestern South Korea, and German giant BASF plans to set up a research and development center in Suwon, south of Seoul.

The two sides also signed a memorandum of understanding on development aid in an effort to develop assistance projects for developing countries, such as the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Rwanda and Vietnam.

Before heading home on Friday, Park held summit talks with European Council President Herman Van Rompuy and European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso. The top EU leaders expressed support for Park's peace visions for the Korean Peninsula and Northeast Asia and agreed to strengthen economic cooperation.

<All rights reserved by Yonhap News Agency>