Fleur Pellerin’s eyes widen when she begins talking about her first trip to South Korea last month.
“I was welcomed like a rock star. It was so strange,” said Ms. Pellerin, France’s first cabinet minister of Asian descent, as she sipped a can of Coke in her plush office, with floor-to-ceiling windows that overlooks the sprawling Finance Ministry.
Ms. Pellerin, a deputy finance minister with responsibilities for small business and the digital economy, was born in Korea and abandoned on the streets of Seoul. She ended up in an orphanage and was adopted at the age of six months by a French couple, Joel and Annie Pellerin. Mr. Pellerin was a nuclear scientist and the family lived in the Paris suburbs.
Ms. Pellerin grew up knowing all about her Korean background from her adoptive parents. But she has always considered herself French and had no desire to visit South Korea or track down her parents. An outstanding student, she graduated from France’s prestigious École National d’Administration and went on to a high-ranking post at the French Court of Auditors, which oversees public auditsand is similar to the Auditor-General.
And even now that she is France’s first cabinet minister of Asian descent, Ms. Pellerin feels awkward, knowing she is a symbol to the Asian community but still feeling like an outsider. “But if people feel happy that they are represented in the government, I think it’s good,” she added.
The trip to South Korea, to discuss foreign investment and digital technology, was something else. Ms. Pellerin was treated like a head of state, with private audiences with the President and Prime Minister. She explained that Koreans have a special affinity for children abandoned in the 1970s, which was not uncommon during what was a difficult time economically for the country. Nonetheless, the reception “was really something special,” she said.
Among President François Hollande’s cabinet, Ms. Pellerin is considered a rising force. Her strong business background, in the private sector and as a government auditor, gives the Socialist government a pro-business advocate. And much of Ms. Pellerin’s job is travelling around the world attracting foreign investment and dispelling misconceptions about French socialism. “I try to explain that we are very pragmatic and business-friendly,” she said.
She has yet to visit Canada – a planned trip next week had to be cancelled to help Mr. Hollande sell his new economic plan – but she is eager to develop business contacts beyond Quebec, where most French companies operate. “We feel that there’s a lot of potential in the western part of Canada, and we really want to develop our bilateral economic relationship with Canada,” she said.