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South Korea Leader Seeks Support in L.A.

Visit: Riordan and Wilson greet Kim Dae Jung, on a nine-day U.S. tour. He speaks of 'an unbreakable bond' between the city and his economically struggling nation.

June 13, 1998|DARRYL FEARS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

South Korean President Kim Dae Jung came to Los Angeles on Friday as part of a nine-day U.S. visit, speaking at three events to groups of local political leaders and Korean businesspeople in an effort to rally support for his country's ailing economy.

At a dinner hosted by Mayor Richard Riordan at Getty House, the mayor's official residence, Kim said he believes that the economic health of South Korea affects the fiscal well-being of Los Angeles.

"Los Angeles and South Korea have nurtured an unbreakable bond," Kim said through an interpreter. "I'm also of the belief that South Korea's health is good for the prosperity of this city and this state."

South Korea was once one of the most prosperous nations in Asia, but it has been hit hard by the regional economic crisis. The value of its currency has fallen, thousands of companies have gone bankrupt and unemployment is up sharply.

Kim announced that a recent two-day investment summit "was a huge success, with over 550 people participating."

But in toasting Kim, Riordan and Gov. Pete Wilson scarcely mentioned South Korea's crisis. They focused on how he ascended to the presidency despite having been imprisoned and condemned to death by the government's former military leadership.

"The world has a new great leader emerging at the end of this century," Riordan said to Kim. "You are the meaning of freedom."

The governor repeated a saying--"The strongest man is he who stands alone against the greatest odds"--then touched on South Korea's crisis in his toast. "To the health of the people of Korea, and to the health of Kim Dae Jung."

Kim, whose inauguration this year was frugal in keeping with South Korea's national belt-tightening, did not comment on the lavish spread at Getty House.

White-gloved waiters served guest from bowls shaped like coconut halves and filled with palm fronds. Guests included former U.S. Sen. Alan Cranston, Assembly Speaker Antonio Villaraigosa and several City Council members.

Earlier in the day, the former political dissident visited business leaders in the Silicon Valley and spoke at Stanford University, where he outlined steps for transforming his country.

Steve Cho, chairman of the Korean War Memorial Committee, was one of about 200 Korean American leaders who greeted Kim at the Omni International Hotel in downtown Los Angeles.

"I feel very proud," Cho said. "He's moving in the right direction."

In Los Angeles, the Korean American community of about 200,000 people has expressed deep concern about economics and politics in the Asian nation, and Kim spoke like a man well aware of it.

He encouraged Korean Americans to support South Korea's economy through investments, trade and land purchases. If his country can endure another year, he said, "it will be a miracle of the Pacific Ocean magnitude."

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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