The appointment of Fleur Pellerin as France’s first South Korean-born minister has prompted soul searching over social values in the country of her birth, where she was adopted at the age of six months.
Media and the ruling party said her appointment was a testament to French tolerance that South Korea could learn a lesson from, amid growing controversy over discrimination against immigrants and their children in the Asian nation.
French President Francois Hollande has named the 38-year-old technocrat as the minister in charge of small and medium enterprises and the digital economy.
Newspapers in Seoul on Friday splashed frontpages with her picture and carried stories about her life while the ruling New Frontier Party expressed hope her appointment would help cement friendly ties between Seoul and Paris.
In a play on her first name, the Hankook Ilbo daily said Pellerin, born in Seoul and adopted by French parents at the age of six months, had finally “bloomed as a flower in Paris” after being “abandoned” in South Korea.
The Hankyoreh daily said in an editorial yesterday that Pellerin was a good example of France’s success in integrating people of foreign origin and a “testament to the country’s progressive values.”
“Unfortunately, when it comes to adoption, there is little difference between the Korea of 1974, from which Pellerin was adopted, and Korea today,” the daily said, adding that South Korea remains one of the leading sources of babies for overseas adoption.
While rejoicing in the fact that an ethnic Korean has become a French minister, it said South Koreans should also pay heed to “the soundness of French society, which raised one child with skin of a different color and an unfortunate background to become a minister.”
“We need to take a hard critical look at ourselves as we ostracize and assault others on the basis of the cursory differences in skin color or sexual preference,” the Hankyoreh added.
Controversy is growing over discriminations against immigrants and their offspring in schools and workplaces in South Korea amid a growing number of international marriages.
In a statement on Friday, the ruling New Frontier Party also said South Korea should learn from Pellerin’s case and France’s efforts to provide equal opportunity to all its people regardless of their origins.
“We hope her appointment will help cement friendly and cooperative ties between two countries,” the party said.
“We pay respect to Minister Pellerin who has overcome adversities with an unbending spirit,” it said.
“We also need to learn from France’s social system which guarantees equal opportunities to all its people, regardless whether they were adopted or immigrated,” the statement said.