Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villlaraigosa hosted South Korean President Park Geun-hye and Gov. Jerry Brown Thursday at Getty House, the mayor's official residence.
Just blocks from Koreatown, the central point of the city's estimated 300,000 residents with roots in Korea, the mayor toasted the new president saying, "L.A. is unthinkable without its Korean community."
The largest metropolitian concentration of Koreans outside the Korea Peninsula is in Los Angeles.
"In fact on my three visits to Korea, I'm always introduced as the mayor of the 7th largest Korean city," Villaraigosa said, to laughter.
The luncheon was the final event on Park's first official visit as president to the United States since her election in February. Visiting Los Angeles and Korean ex-pats has become a traditional stop for Korean presidents upon taking office. Park visited New York and Washington earlier in the week, and met President Barack Obama. She met with Korean-Americans Wednesday evening in Los Angeles, and stopped by the Getty Center Thursday morning.
Going by the job titles of those at the luncheon's head table, trade and tourism were goals of the interaction between the city, state and Korean officials. The president of Korean Air sat next to Park, observed a reporter for The Korea Times. That company recently announced it plans to build the tallest building in the western United States here in L.A.
Officials from the Port of Los Angeles were introduced, as were the Korean ministers of foreign affairs, trade and industry. The widening of the Panama Canal to allow passage of the largest shipping vessels has raised concerns at California ports about whether Asian companies will continue to offload goods on the West Coast and ship them cross-country, or bypass California ports to reach Eastern ports.
Gov. Brown toasted the president: "I raise my glass for closer cooperation, tourism, business, culture and political support. Our friendship is undying, madame President, we salute you."
Park's address, spoken in Korean, referenced the large amount of trade and tourism that passes beetween the two countries. She said, through an interpreter, that the 60-year-alliance between Korea and the U.S., begun for security purposes, had evolved to one of mutual economic benefit.
Park is Korea's first woman president. She's said to be an admirer of former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and is viewed as a similarly tough politician, not surprising given her lifelong proximity to the power players in her nation.
She is the daughter of Park Chung He, who seized power in Korea in a coup in 1961 and held office for 18 years. When she was 22, her mother was killed by an assassin's bullet meant for her father. She ended up taking over the First Lady role during her father's remaining years in South Korea's presidential mansion, the Blue House, until he was assassinated in 1979.
Park herself was the victim of an attack in 2006 when a man slashed at her face with a box cutter while she was speaking in public. She's single, with no children.
Relations between North and South Korea are at their lowest point in years. North Korea has been engaging in warlike rhetoric, alleging threats from the South, and the long-tenuous diplomatic and business links between the two nations have been severed.