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South Korean President Visits LA, Supports Detroit Bailout

New America Media, News Report, Kenneth Kim Posted: Nov 25, 2008

Editor's Note: Some 400 Korean Americans greeted South Korean president Lee Myung-bak on his first trip to Los Angeles, where he discussed his support for reviving the U.S. auto industry. Kenneth Kim is a reporter for New America Media. Photo courtesy of the Korea Times.

LOS ANGELES South Korean president Lee Myung-bak received a heros welcome from an adoring audience of local Korean Americans at a reception in the Beverly Hills Hotels Crystal Ballroom on Monday, where the crowd of more than 400 had waited as long as two hours.

The Korean Americans appeared willing to forget they arent allowed to vote or contribute to campaigns in South Korea, and the fact that he had skipped Los Angeles in his previous visit to the United States. Instead, it was a day to celebrate the arrival of the new president whose move has seemed to affirm the diaspora communitys contribution to the motherland.

As President Lee and First Lady Kim Yoon-ok, who were surrounded by a security detail, walked into the room, the crowd greeted the couple with thunderous applause even drowning out calls of Lee Myung-bak, My President from a few overzealous enthusiasts.

President Lee arrived here late Sunday night, after attending an Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum in Lima, Peru, to begin a two-day visit to Los Angeles.

The short visit to the city included a meeting with California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and a luncheon with Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa. It was President Lees first trip as the head of a state to L.A., where the largest Korean population resides outside Korea.

Los Angeles is also the epicenter of a political scandal that could have derailed his bid to the presidency. Last year, a month before South Koreas Presidential election, a Korean-American Los Angeles city commissioner who was seen as a model of success in his community implicated then-candidate Lee in a financial fraud case. Later, the Korean court cleared Lee and convicted the Korean-American businessman.

Nevertheless, President Lee clearly relished the enthusiastic crowd, thanking them for their support in the last presidential election. Without your support, I couldnt have had a landslide victory, said Lee in Korean.

But, President Lee, whose nickname is Bulldozer for his way of making blunt speeches and his bold actions, didnt say whether Korean Americans will be allowed to vote in South Korean elections when asked about the issue.

In the last year, Korean-American leaders who claim to be well connected to Korean politicians financed grassroots organizations in the United States to mobilize support for Lee. Since they cant vote in Korean elections, community groups distributed pre-paid phone cards to Korean Americans and encouraged them to call and implore their relatives back home to vote for Lee.

Instead of directly addressing Korean Americans desire to play a role in Korean politics, he allocated most of his 40-minute speech to explaining the dire economic conditions in South Korea and United States.

During his speech, he showed his support for reviving the U.S. auto industry.

I support President-elect Barack Obama's proposal to help the struggling U.S. auto industry, said the South Korean President. Reviving the U.S. auto industry will be beneficial to South Korea, too. That will allow South Korea room for exports of automobiles and related parts.

He also said the Free Trade Agreement between South Korea and United States should be ratified by his countrys National Assembly and U.S. Congress as soon as possible.

The landmark trade deal has faced opposition in both countries. In the United States, auto labor unions insist that signing the free trade agreement would victimize American carmakers, and in South Korea, proponents of the agricultural industry also see it as the harbinger of destruction.

Despite President Lees indifference on Korean-American issues, the crowd didnt seem deterred from supporting him.

Moo Han Bae, co-chair of the Committee to Support Lee Myung-bak, said that hes never met with the President in person.

We didnt support for him with expectation to get something in return, said Bae. We just wish him the best.

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