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Ex-GNP Chair Makes Rare Trip With Entourage to US

Posted May. 06, 2009 08:24,   


The former chairwoman of the ruling Grand National Party Park Geun-hye took a flight bound for the United States yesterday.

She will give a lecture on “Korea and the Future amid a Rapidly Evolving World” Thursday at the invitation of the Asia-Pacific Institute of Stanford University in northern California. She will also tour Silicon Valley and hold meetings with entrepreneurs and Korean Americans there before returning to Seoul Monday.

Accompanying Park will be eight lawmakers who generally support her. It is considered unusual for so many lawmakers to join her on an overseas trip. Park had never been accompanied by lawmakers abroad except on her visit to China in January last year as a special envoy of President-elect Lee Myung-bak.

When Park visited Australia and New Zealand in May last year right after the general elections, she opted to fly alone.

This time, she is visiting northern California as an individual. Still, pro-Park lawmakers volunteered to take “applications” to accompany her. Park had refused to allow journalists to join her in going to Australia, but her supporters this time proactively requested that reporters accompany her this time.

Park said she picked eight lawmakers from many legislators who wanted to accompany her. Many of them are not considered members of the pro-Park faction, except for Yoo Jung-bok, who served as her chief of staff when she served as party leader; Lee Jung-hyun, who is her de facto spokesman; and Seo Sang-ki, who is a specialist in science and technology.

Her delegation also has a number of lawmakers from different regions, including Yoo Jung-bak (Gimpo, Gyeonggi Province); Lee Hak-jae (Seo and Ganghwa-A districts of Incheon); Yoo Jae-jung (Suyeong district of Busan), Seo Sang-ki (Buk B district of Daegu); Ahn Hong-joon (Masan, South Gyeongsang Province); Lee Jin-bok (Dongrae district of Busan); Lee Kye-jin (Wonju of Gangwon Province); and Lee Jung-hyun (proportional representative from the Jeolla region).

These lawmakers will continue to accompany Park in her seven-day visit with no schedules of their own. They call themselves an “entourage” instead of “fellow travelers.” Their use of the term “entourage” despite Park’s lack of official party title demonstrates her lingering influence in the party.

Park has been cautious over her image as the chief of the pro-Park faction in the party. Though the ruling party has more than 60 pro-Park lawmakers, she has never held individual meetings with them, except for those who participated in her election camp in the party primaries for the 2007 presidential election. She often shuns meetings with lawmakers close to her.

For this reason, Park’s confidants have expressed frustration with one saying, “Park is too negligent about managing her confidants.”

Given her reluctance in contacting representatives individually, a sense of crisis has spread within the pro-Park faction that first-term lawmakers with a neutral stance are growingly resisting her.

Hence, political insiders say of Park’s entourage that she seems poised to strengthen ties with her supporters. They say Park might be changing her style of managing her inner circle and supporters after keeping a low profile and refraining from conducting public activities.

To this, Park said, “The delegation includes many lawmakers who have not gone abroad thus far,” adding, “We’re going together because the National Assembly is not in session.” Her comments apparently seek to prevent analysts from overly interpreting the move.