LOS ANGELES (AP) – South Korea’s president ended her first U.S. trip on Thursday by joining the governor of California and the mayor of Los Angeles in a toast to future trade and tourism and stronger cultural ties between the two nations.
“The bonds between your country and my city are deep and rich,” Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa told President Park Geun-hye in welcoming remarks. “We are linked by more than just trade and tourism. Our histories and cultures are deeply intertwined.”
Los Angeles is home to the largest Korean population outside South Korea, anchored in the city’s Koreatown neighborhood.
Villaraigosa quipped that when he visits South Korea, he is introduced as mayor of that country’s seventh-largest city _ a reference to the number of Koreans in Los Angeles.
Park received a standing ovation from guests who gathered under a white canopy on a broad lawn behind the mayor’s official residence, Getty House. The crowd was entertained by an all-female mariachi band, dressed in traditional costumes and sombreros.
Referring to the six-decade relationship between the two nations, she said that when her country succeeds, so does the U.S. For Koreans, Los Angeles and California “have a special place in our hearts,” she added.
She then raised a toast to an “ever more successful alliance.”
Villaraigosa noted the contributions of Korean immigrants in the city, and said Los Angeles would be “unthinkable without its Korean community.”
Park told Congress on Wednesday that she will never accept a nuclear-armed North Korea and that provocative actions by the reclusive communist country will be met decisively.
There was no mention of North Korea at the luncheon, although Gov. Jerry Brown said ties between democracies must be kept strong in the turbulent world.
“Our friendship is undying,” Brown said.
Park was on her first overseas trip since taking power in February, two weeks after North Korea conducted its latest nuclear test _ the third since 2006 _ that increased tensions in the region.
On Tuesday, Park and President Barack Obama delivered a strong message of solidarity in the face of threats from North Korea.
Park’s visit marks the 60th anniversary of the military alliance with the U.S. that maintains 28,500 troops in South Korea.
Park is the daughter of the late South Korean dictator Park Chung-hee. In her 20s, she assumed the duties of first lady after a gunman claiming he had orders from North Korea killed her mother.
Park’s attempts to build trust with North Korea have gained no traction, and relations have worsened since she took office. The North recently forced the closure of a joint industrial park that was a rare symbol of cooperation between the two countries.