South Korean President on landmark Swiss visit

BERN, Switzerland (AFP) - South Korea's President Park Geun-Hye began a state visit to Switzerland on Monday, the first by a head of state from her country since the two nations established diplomatic relations in 1962.

Ms Park's Swiss counterpart, Mr Didier Burkhalter, welcomed her briefly in Korean at an official reception, as she began her two-day visit focused on economic links.

Returning to his native French, Mr Burkhalter lauded South Korea as an example of economic innovation, saying the country was a "natural partner" for Switzerland, also home to cutting-edge technology and precision industry firms.

"There's a skillful mix between a modern, dynamic Korea - right through to Gangnam Style - and a country attached to its traditions, and a profound awareness of its history," he said, making a passing, humorous reference to a Korean K-pop hit.

In response, Ms Park said the two countries shared an ability to overcome limited natural resources, and punched above their weight on the global stage.

Ms Park said she hoped that her visit would further boost links, notably in trade, science and research, plus the education, pharmaceutical and tourism sectors.

Two cement that, the two leaders were to sign a handful of cooperation deals.

Switzerland is not a member of the 28-nation European Union, but along with Iceland, Norway and Liechtenstein is part of the broader European Free Trade Association, which signed a free trade deal with South Korea in 2006.

Ms Park and Mr Burkhalter also took part in a Korea-Switzerland Business Forum.

"Asia is economically the most dynamic region in the world and therefore very important for Switzerland," Mr Burkhalter said.

"Asia accounts for over 15 per cent of our external trade and this figure is rising year-by-year," he added.

Ms Park was to wrap up her visit on Tuesday by touring an industrial design college to learn more about Switzerland's system of mixing academic and professional training.

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