Stepping up her "sales diplomacy" drive, President Park Geun-hye on Tuesday sought to troubleshoot problems and difficulties South Korean companies face in doing business in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam's economic capital.
Park made a one-day visit to the bustling southern city and met with top officials there, including the city's party secretary Le Thanh Hai and its Mayor Le Hoang Quan. She asked for their support for South Korean companies, including relaxing regulations that are hindering their businesses.
"Many businessmen are trying to make more investments, but there appears to be some difficulties," Park said during the meeting with Hai. "More investment would be possible when such things are resolved."
Park added that a record number of businessmen are accompanying her on the trip in Vietnam.
Specifically, Park put forward four requests, including a call for easing foreigner hiring regulations, so that graduates from South Korea's "meister" vocational high schools can be employed in the city. She also called for tax benefits and other incentives for companies making additional investments in the city.
The other requests included improving complicated regulations related to construction, and introducing an independent audit system necessary for companies looking for financially healthy partners for investment in the country, officials said.
Hai said in response that he will try to resolve the issues, stressing it will contribute to building trust between the two countries. In case of issues that go beyond the city's authority, the official also said that he will make related requests to the central government.
The trip came a day after she held an economy-focused summit with Vietnamese President Truong Tan Sang and agreed to conclude ongoing free trade talks next year, expand trade volume to US$70 billion by 2020 and work together for Vietnam's nuclear power development.
Vietnam also promised to help Korean firms participate in energy and infrastructure projects.
These agreements represented the first tangible fruits of Park's "sales diplomacy" drive that calls for using diplomatic trips and meetings to promote South Korea's economic interests so as to help Asia's fourth-largest economy recover from a prolonged slump.
Park has put forward the slogan as a top priority for the second half of this year.
Later in the day, Park visited a garment factory of South Korea's Hansae Vietnam Co. in a move designed to show South Korea's commitment to make direct investments in the country and forge mutually beneficial cooperative ties.
After the tour, Park met with the chiefs of 14 Korean firms operating in the city to listen to difficulties they face in doing business in Vietnam. She also held a meeting with Korean residents there before flying back to Hanoi.
"I held a summit with Vietnam yesterday and agreed to further expand future-oriented, higher-level cooperation projects," Park said during the meeting. "Based on manufacturing businesses operating actively now, the scope of economic cooperation will expand to high-tech industries, such as IT, information communications, energy and environment industries."
"This will open the door of new challenges and opportunities for not only our companies and Vietnam's economy, but also for all of you too," she said.
The city, formerly known as Saigon, is Vietnam's economic center and home to some 1,800 Korean companies that employ some 500,000 Vietnamese workers. About 85,000 South Koreans live there, making it the biggest Korean community in Southeast Asia.
The city is pushing for subway and highway construction and large-scale infrastructure projects under a long-term development plan.
Park was to return to Hanoi later Tuesday. She is scheduled to head to Seoul on Wednesday. (Yonhap News)