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Republic of Korea President Park Geun-hye, wearing a traditional dress, is greeted by two children upon her arrival at the presidential house after her inauguration ceremony as the 18th ROK president in Seoul on Feb 25. Park took office as the ROK's first female president. Suh Myung-gon / Yonhap News Agency via Associated Press
Park poses inside an ROK army Surion helicopter in May, during a ceremony to celebrate its deployment at the Army Aviation School in Nonsan, about 190 km south of Seoul. Ahn Jung-won / Yonhap News Agency via Reuters
With her keen interest in Chinese philosophy and her self-taught capacity for Mandarin, Republic of Korea President Park Geun-hye is set to charm China and bring the two countries even closer together.
Preparations started months ago for Park's visit, which will take her to the ancient city of Xi'an in Shaanxi province after her summit with President Xi Jinping in Beijing. She is also set to make a speech at Tsinghua University, which is expected to be delivered entirely in Mandarin.
"Park is paying particular attention to this visit and the ROK's relationship with China. In her first few months as president, bilateral relations have been developing a good momentum," said Wang Junsheng, a researcher on East Asia studies at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.
At the beginning of May, Park set up an "unprecedented" special working group of more than 60 members to prepare for the visit. They include government officials from the ROK's Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade and the Ministry of Education, as well as university professors and fellows from national research institutions.
Park spent last weekend preparing for her meeting with Xi, confirming the list of delegates and preparing her speech in Chinese, according to Seoul's Chosun Ilbo newspaper.
Speech in Mandarin
"Among all the previous ROK presidents, Park has the best Mandarin. It's also very rare for a foreign country's leader to give a public speech when visiting China, not to mention using the Chinese language," said Wang.
"Making a public speech itself shows that Park attaches great importance to relations with China. And using Chinese will bring the two countries' cultural ties closer," said Huang Youfu, a professor of Korean studies at Minzu University of China. And making a speech in Chinese shows Park's respect and friendship to the Chinese people and that is expected to receive a warm welcome, he said.
Park is an admirer of Chinese culture and her favorite book is History of Chinese Philosophy by Feng Youlan, a renowned Chinese philosopher, according to media reports.
During a 1974 assassination attempt on her father, then-president Park Chung-hee, Park's mother was killed. In 1979, her father was assassinated. Park found strength after losing both parents by reading the works of Feng.
She has also spoken fondly of her earlier trips to China. In November 2011, when she was invited to China as a representative of the ROK's Grand National Party, she made a three-minute address and gave interviews in Chinese, according to China News Service.
Park also visited China in 2008 as an envoy of former ROK president Lee Myung-bak, in addition to two previous visits in 2005 and 2006.
She has also established personal ties with Xi before they both became presidents.
In 2005, when Xi was Party chief of Zhejiang province, he met Park for lunch during a visit to the ROK.
Xi was keen to learn about the New Village Movement, a rural development program in the 1970s undertaken by Park's father. Park later gave Xi two boxes of materials that included her father's speeches on the movement and a book about the ROK's economic development.
In a phone call in March after both leaders took office, Xi called Park "an old friend of the Chinese people and of myself", according to ROK officials.
"Personal ties between leaders are very important to bilateral relationship. Both Park and Xi have mentioned on different occasions that they have good impressions of each other. Their personal ties will be sure to promote the China-ROK relationship," said Wang from the CASS.
Since Park's electoral victory, analysts have pinned high hopes on her improving China-ROK relations, which encountered setbacks during her predecessor's time. Park's foreign policy practices in her first few months in office have given them more reasons to be optimistic.
Choosing China as her second destination for a state visit, Park has broken the tradition that an ROK president usually visits Japan after going to the United States, said Huang from Minzu University of China.
The large group of more than 70 business leaders accompanying her shows the importance of economic and trade relationship between the two countries, which is expected to benefit greatly from the visit, Huang said.
In 2008, when Lee visited China, he took 36 business leaders, according to the ROK's Yonhap News Agency.
Wang said the scale of Park's business delegation to China is also much bigger than the one she took to the US for her first state visit, which shows that she is trying to balance the ROK's relations with the US and its ties with China.
On the issue of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, Park stressed "building trust" on the Korean Peninsula, which is welcomed and supported by China, he said.
"During the crisis on the Korean Peninsula in the past few months, we think Park has handled it well. The ROK showed restraint, kept rational and enhanced coordination with China," Wang said.
(China Daily 06/27/2013 page11)