ADDIS ABABA, July 10 (Yonhap) -- President Lee Myung-bak wound up a three-nation swing through Africa on Sunday, bagging PyeongChang's right to host the 2018 Winter Olympics and securing a foothold for South Korea's efforts to break into the untapped continent.
The 10-day trip to South Africa, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Ethiopia also carried significance that Lee rounded off his global summit diplomacy with a visit to Africa, a region that South Korean officials have portrayed as the source of a fresh growth engine for their economy.
Lee was the first South Korean president to visit Congo and Ethiopia.
The trip to Ethiopia was also meaningful in that it was the only black African nation that shed blood for South Korea during the 1950-53 Korean War, with more than 6,000 Ethiopian troops fighting alongside the South and more than 120 of them killed in battles with North Korea.
Still, the highlight of the July 2-11 trip was the Winter Olympics.
Lee flew halfway around the world to South Africa's Durban four days before the International Olympic Committee held its general assembly to pick the host city for the 2018 games in order to help make last-minute pitches for South Korea's third straight attempt to bring the Winter Olympics to PyeongChang.
The South Korean alpine city competed against Germany's Munich and France's Annecy.
In the run-up to the IOC meeting, aides said Lee "sliced up his 24 hours" to meet as many IOC members as possible and ask for their support for PyeongChang. Lee also attended two dress rehearsals for PyeongChang's final presentation at the IOC assembly just hours before the vote.
Lee said that he practiced his English-language presentation so diligently his throat was sore.
In a sign of his commitment to deliver the winter games to PyeongChang, Lee also replaced the phoenix emblem emblazoned on the presidential jet with PyeongChang's slogans -- "PyeongChang2018" and "New Horizons" -- so that he could be photographed with them as soon as he stepped out of his jet upon his arrival in Durban.
Lee's efforts paid off in a big way.
PyeongChang won a resounding victory over the rivals by garnering 63 of the 95 votes cast. Munich came in a distant second with 25 votes and Annecy finished third with only seven votes. The result was a happy ending for PyeongChang's decade-long quest for the games.
"This is a victory for the people of the Republic of Korea. My fellow Koreans, thank you!" Lee said after the IOC vote. "Germany was really a strong nation, but we won. Sincerity moves heaven and I believe we were able to win as we pulled our sincerity together."
In Durban, Lee also held summit talks with South African President Jacob Zuma, reaching agreements to enhance nuclear energy cooperation, including building atomic reactors and power plants, and to boost investment and trade in order to strengthen economic ties between the two nations.
South Africa is Africa's biggest economy and the only African member of the Group of 20 economic forum.
The two-day visit to the resource-rich Congo was focused on economic cooperation.
Lee and Congolese President Joseph Kabila agreed in summit talks to work together to rebuild the war-torn Congo through a combination of Korea's technologies and Congo's rich national resources.
Specifically, Lee offered to share South Korea's economic development experience with Congo to cooperate in transferring agricultural technologies, human resources training and drawing up national development strategies. Congo has been trying to rebuild the country since a civil war in the early 2000s.
Kabila agreed to facilitate projects in which South Korean firms have been trying to take part, such as building water purification facilities and ports and developing mineral resources, including copper.
The two sides signed a series of agreements laying the legal grounds for economic cooperation as well as agreements to link social infrastructure construction to resources development and to conduct joint oil exploration.
In Ethiopia, Lee repeatedly expressed gratitude for helping South Korea during the Korean War.
Ethiopia is one of 16 nations that sent combat troops as part of U.N. forces to help South Korea fight off North Korea's invasion. A total of 6,037 Ethiopian troops were dispatched, with 122 killed and 536 injured. This year marks the 60th anniversary of Ethiopia's participation in the war.
"Their sacrifices safeguarded liberal democracy in the Republic of Korea. The Korean people will never forget your country, Ethiopia, which gave us a helping hand at a time when our countries did not even have diplomatic relations," Lee said during a speech at Ethiopia's top Addis Ababa University.
Lee also laid a wreath at the Korean War Memorial and met with surviving Korean War veterans.
On Saturday and Sunday, Lee visited poverty-stricken villages and engaged in volunteer work, such as spraying disinfectant at public toilets and helping to repair village facilities, in a symbolic gesture of expressing gratitude to Ethiopia.
In summit talks with Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, Lee also pledged to provide active support for Ethiopia's economic development, providing the country with the know-how and experience of South Korea's rapid development from the war's ashes to one of the world's largest economies.
"Korea is ready to go hand in hand with Africa into the future. We wish to establish a partnership that will be conducive to the common growth of both Korea and Africa in the 21st century," Lee said at Addis Ababa University.
"Ethiopia stands at the center of Korea's cooperation policies toward Africa," he said.
South Korea also agreed to help Ethiopia implement its ambitious five-year economic development plan, known as the "Growth and Transformation Plan." The two sides also signed a grant provision agreement, a rare metal exploration deal and other economic cooperation accords.