French Minister of Foreign Affairs Fleur Pellerin yesterday bagan a highly symbolic trip to South Korea, the land of her birth, where she is a celebrity due to her roots and a rags-to-riches story.
Pellerin, the junior minister for small and medium-sized enterprises, innovation and the digital economy, is due to meet with South Korean President Park Geun-hye, the country’s prime minister and top officials from leading chaebols, or business conglomerates, such as Samsung and Hyundai.
Born in 1973 in Seoul and abandoned, Pellerin was adopted by a French couple six months later from an orphanage and came to France. She had never been back to her homeland.
Pellerin’s trip to South Korea and Japan was to begin yesterday and ends on Friday.
Previously little-known in France, the woman born as Kim Jong-sook made waves in South Korea when she was appointed as foreign minister in Socialist French President Francois Hollande’s administration.
The South Korean media cited it as an example of French tolerance, saying that Seoul could follow France’s example amid growing controversy over discrimination against immigrants in the Asian nation.
While more than 150,000 South Korean children have been adopted by foreign parents since the Korean War, Pellerin is the only one that has risen to the top ranks of government.
Raised in a middle-class environment, she was a successful student who was educated at elite institutions including the famed Sciences Po university in Paris and the Ecole Nationale d’Administration, which serve as finishing schools for the country’s ruling class.
Pellerin is a key figure in Hollande’s quest to ensure that French rules apply to global Internet companies such as Google operating in the country.
“If we don’t act in the next few years it will be too late” to enforce those rules, Pellerin has said.
She is leading a high-profile business team to the two Asian countries, which include Nicolas Dufourcq, the head of the French Public Investment Bank, and David Appia, the chief executive and chairman of the Invest in France Agency.
Pellerin does not speak Korean, but does speak Japanese, having lived in the country for a year.