January 24, 2014 11:25
A vastly expanded Chinese Embassy opened its doors on Thursday following years of construction. The embassy compound consists of a 10-story office building and an adjacent 24-story residential block.
A gold sign on the massive red gate proclaims it the Embassy of the People's Republic of China.
Around 80 guests were invited to a ceremony marking the opening of the new compound. They included journalists, local traders and Chinese residents and students in Seoul.
Construction began in 2010 and was completed in November last year, but this is the first time the facility has been opened to outsiders.
Embassy officials said they chose not to hold a grand opening ceremony due to Chinese President Xi Jinping's focus on austerity.
The compound measures 17,199 sq.m, making it the second-largest Chinese Embassy in the world after Washington and the biggest diplomatic mission here.
Laundry could be spotted in the windows of the residential building, which can accommodate 52 households. Construction of a swimming pool is still underway on the 13th floor, while the building also houses a fitness center and beauty salon.
Asked if Xi would be staying there when he visits Korea, an embassy official said a hotel in the city would be more suitable for him. Although most embassy staff will live there, many of them are apparently less than enthusiastic about living so close to their workplace.
The embassy has some traditional Chinese features, including a pavilion in the courtyard and red lanterns at the entrances. The plot of land on which it sits was purchased by a Qing Dynasty emissary who was dispatched to Korea during a military uprising in 1882.
The Taiwanese Embassy used to stand on the same land before Korea normalized diplomatic relations with China. The Chinese Embassy was temporarily relocated to another part of Seoul in 2002.
Many feel the vast compound symbolizes China's rising status on the global stage as well as the strengthened relations between Seoul and Beijing.
The embassy's charge d'affaires said Myeong-dong used to be full of Japanese tourists when he worked here in the 1990s. "But now, you can hear Chinese spoken everywhere and there are many Chinese tourists, which is proof of close bilateral ties."
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