Park warms up for 'sales diplomacy' in Switzerland

By Chang Jae-soon

BERN, Jan. 19 (Yonhap) -- South Korean President Park Geun-hye warmed up Sunday for a flurry of economic diplomacy meetings set to kick off in Switzerland this week, including a summit with the European nation and an annual gathering of political and business leaders from around the world.

Park arrived in the Swiss capital of Bern on Saturday for a state visit and to attend this year's meeting of the World Economic Forum (WEF) at the ski resort of Davos later this week. Park is the first South Korean president to make a state visit to Switzerland since the two sides opened diplomatic relations in 1963.

Overall, the five-day trip is aimed mainly at increasing South Korea's economic and business interests under her "sales diplomacy" campaign. But on Sunday, Park used the day for cultural events, a meeting with Swiss people close to South Korea, and then a meeting with Korean residents.

"Sixty years has passed since the (Korean War) cease-fire, but unstable peace is continuing on the Korean Peninsula," Park said during the meeting with a group of six Swiss people, three of them serving on the Neutral Nations Supervisory Commission aimed at ensuring the Korean Armistice Agreement.

"Though there will be difficulties, I will do my best with patience to build the foundation for peace on the Korean Peninsula and peaceful unification ... I would appreciate it if you could also continue to pay attention to unification of the Korean Peninsula," she said.

The Swiss participants in the meeting included Jean-Jacques Joss, chairman of the Swiss-Korea Association who served as head of the Swiss delegation to the Neutral Nations Supervisory Commission, and Christian Wasserfallen, a lawmaker who heads the Swiss-Korea parliamentary friendship association.

Later Sunday, Park attended a special exhibition of the work of renowned Swiss artist Paul Klee and the performance "Korea Fantasy," a dance and art show introducing traditional Korean art and culture to the Swiss audience.

Switzerland is known for its highly skilled labor force, and a key point of Park's trip is to glean knowledge from the Swiss and take a firsthand look at the country's vocational education, officials said. She is scheduled to pay a visit to a vocational school on Tuesday.

The summit with Swiss President Didier Burkhalter, set for Monday, is expected to center on laying the foundation for industrial and technological cooperation with the European economy with global competitive edges in such high-tech sectors as precision machinery, chemical and bio industries, officials said.

On Tuesday, Park heads to the ski resort of Davos for the WEF meeting, also known as the "Davos Forum." Park plans to use the forum and a series of meetings she will hold on its sidelines as an investor relations (IR) session for the South Korean economy, officials said.

Park will be the second South Korean president to attend the forum, after her predecessor, Lee Myung-bak.

She plans to deliver a keynote speech at the forum to champion her "creative economy" vision, the overarching economic growth strategy of the Park administration that calls for the blending of information and communications technology with culture and other realms to create novel industries and more jobs.

While in Davos, Park also plans to hold a series of one-on-one meetings with global business leaders attending the premier forum, such as the CEOs of CISCO, Qualcomm, Saudi Aramco and Siemens, to ask for more investment in South Korea, officials said.

South Korea lags behind other advanced nations in attracting foreign investment. The ratio of foreign direct investment in South Korea to its gross domestic product is 12.7 percent, which is far lower than the 25 percent of the U.S., 21.1 percent of Germany and 41.9 percent of France, officials said.

Moreover, South Korea's overseas investment has exceeded foreign direct investment in the country for seven years in a row until last year. The Park administration has made efforts to turn the situation around, including revising a law aimed at promoting foreign investment, officials said.

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