- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 17, 2005

SEOUL — Former President George Bush knew he had arrived in South Korea early this week when he found himself sitting at a table piled with traditional delicacies in the folk village of Andong, outside the city of Busan, host to this week’s Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit.

“He liked the acorn jelly and barbecued ‘fire beef’ best,” said chef Yoon Jong-jin, who catered to the Bushes. “South Korean troops had surveyed the location days prior to the dinner, and I was escorted into the kitchen by the U.S. Secret Service,” added Mr. Yoon, executive chef of Seoul’s famed Gaon restaurant.

With Mr. Bush’s incumbent son having arrived in South Korea Wednesday, his father’s experiences — unsubtle helpings of national promotion in the foreground and an equally obtrusive security apparatus in the background — are likely to be the main features of this year’s APEC forum outside the conference halls.

The weeklong event began with meetings of ministers of the 21 member countries. It climaxes today and tomorrow with meetings of national leaders.

South Korea is no stranger to major international events: It hosted the 1988 Olympics and the 2002 World Cup. Busan, on South Korea’s southeast coast opposite Japan, hosted the 2002 Asian Games, and every autumn holds an international film festival, widely considered Asia’s best.

But few events are as sensitive as APEC. With President Bush, Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi and Chinese President Hu Jintao among the 10,000 officials attending, South Korea is undertaking the largest security operation in its history. About 46,000 personnel have been deployed nationwide. Naval special units have been sighted off Busan’s Haeundae Beach resort, where the leaders will be staying, and counterterrorism officials from 20 countries have established an operations center in the area.

It’s not just terrorism. With 100,000 anti-globalization protesters — including the movement’s Asian storm troopers, Korean farmers — expected today and Saturday, battalions of riot police are visible around the venue.

But it is big business for Busan, South Korea’s No. 2 city and the world’s fifth busiest port. The Korea Institute for International Economic Policy projects Busan will generate $450 million from APEC; the Ministry of Commerce expects Korea to sign deals worth $520 million. However, at a chief executive seminar running alongside the summit, executives have slammed Korea’s regulatory obstacles, patent- protection policies and tax probes of foreign funds.

The city’s infrastructure has been overloaded. Because of a shortage of deluxe hotel rooms, some delegates reportedly have resorted to “love hotels” in the red-light district behind the glitzy beach strip. Even so, Busan is promoting itself furiously.

On Tuesday, Mayor Hur Nam-sik announced the city’s bid for the 2020 Summer Olympics at Bexco, the conference center that is APEC’s main venue. At Bexco, booths present Korean literature and cuisine. An information-technology exhibit features everything from robots to electronic government. On Wednesday, 80,000 fireworks provided the largest-ever such display in South Korea.

“Korea is good at mass mobilization in the cause of national promotion,” said Mike Breen, founder of the Seoul-based public relations firm Insight Communications and author of “The Koreans.”

“They are weaker at the ‘software’ part of promotion, which calls for a more subtle understanding of their target audiences.” Indeed, public relations officials in Busan proved incapable of answering the simplest questions.

There is a lighter side. In a now-customary rite of summit silliness that dates to 1994, all leaders will be photographed wearing the traditional clothes of the host nation at Saturday’s photo-op. A choir of 17 Seoul-based ambassadors will be singing numbers such as “Do-Re-Mi” and “The Song of APEC.”

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