France's first Korean-born minister on landmark Seoul visit

PARIS (AFP) - French minister Fleur Pellerin begins a highly symbolic trip this weekend to South Korea, the land of her birth, where she is a celebrity due to her roots and a rags-to-riches story.

Ms Pellerin, the junior minister for small and medium enterprises, innovation, and the digital economy, is due to meet with South Korea's President Park Geun Hye, its prime minister and top officials from leading chaebols, or business conglomerates, such as Samsung and Hyundai.

Born in 1973 in Seoul and abandoned, Ms Pellerin was adopted by a French couple six months later from an orphanage and came to France. She has never been back to her homeland.

Her trip to South Korea and Japan begins on Saturday 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 minister in the government of Socialist President Francois Hollande.

The Korean media cited it as an example of French tolerance, saying Seoul could draw an example of that 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, only one - Ms Pellerin - 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 (ENA), which serve as finishing schools for the country's ruling class.

She is a key figure in Mr 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, Ms Pellerin has said.

She is leading a high-profile business team, including Mr Nicolas Dufourcq, the head of France's public investment bank, and Mr David Appia, the chief of the French agency in charge of international investments.

Ms Pellerin does not speak Korean but knows Japanese, having lived in the country for a year.

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