President Lee Myung-bak began his European tour meeting with German leaders Monday. With few pressing issues on hand, other than how to increase economic cooperation using the just-ratified Korea-European Union Free Trade Agreement, Lee’s week-long trip through Germany, Denmark and France will be a respite from the headaches at home complicated by a by-election defeat, falling approval ratings and growing internal dissent in the ruling party.
As for the Korea-EU FTA, which the Grand National Party unilaterally passed at the National Assembly on Wednesday, the president will have to explain to his European hosts how strong the domestic resistance was about removing trade barriers in the agricultural sector. However, the main topic in Berlin will be the country’s political and economic experiences before and after its reunification two decades ago.
In Copenhagen, President Lee will attend the opening event of the Danish branch of the Global Green Growth Institute, an international think tank to study sustainable growth strategies and policies which Seoul established last year to promote environment-friendly technologies and industries. Lee’s talks with French President Nicolas Sarkozy will be centered on cooperation through the G20 framework as Korea hosted its summit last year and France is its chair for 2011.
Only last Friday, Lee’s mainstreamers suffered a defeat in the vote to elect the ruling party’s floor leader 64-90 as members of the dissident Park Geun-hye faction supported neutral Rep. Hwang Woo-yea. In an interesting coincidence, Park returned home Sunday from a 10-day tour of the Netherlands, Portugal and Greece as a special envoy of President Lee to congratulate the 50th anniversary of Korea’s opening diplomatic relations with these countries.
Lee gave Park the ceremonial mission to show a sincere desire for internal solidarity, but the usual one-on-one to listen to a report on the outcome of the special mission had to be delayed because of the president’s embarkation on his own European tour. The president is traveling abroad and his top intra-party rival has just returned home, and people watching them spending the taxpayers’ money on activities of little practical significance are hardly pleased.