March 21, 2022 09:40
President-elect Yoon Suk-yeol on Sunday said he will move the presidential office out of the palatial Cheong Wa Dae or Blue House to a nondescript government block in downtown Yongsan.
Yoon hopes to start his term in the new office, which houses the Defense Ministry, once he is inaugurated on May 10 and open the old presidential compound to the public.
"It's a difficult decision, but I made it for the future of the nation," Yoon said at a press conference on Sunday. "I intend to live up to my promise to give back Cheong Wa Dae, which often symbolizes the arrogance of power, to the public."
Yoon added that the ministry building already has all necessary security facilities and will not impose new fresh development restrictions on local residents. "Starting this year, the [nearby] U.S. military base will begin to be returned [to Korea] so that a park can be built, enabling better communication with the public," he said. The new office will have its own press room on the ground floor.
He explained that moving the presidential office to the central landmark square of Gwanghwamun instead, as he promised during his campaign, turned out to be a bad idea since there is not enough space and some facilities at Cheong Wa Dae would still have to be used. He added it would be "too inconvenient" for the heavy-traffic area.
Asked why he is in such a hurry, he quipped, "Once I move into the grounds of Cheong Wa Dae, I think it would be even more difficult to get out."
The relocation has been mooted by other presidential candidates in the past, including current President Moon Jae-in, but all gave up once they got comfortable in their palace.
The Defense Ministry will move to the nearby Joint Chiefs of Staff building, while the current Army Chief of Staff's residence in Hannam-dong a five-minute drive away will serve temporarily as Yoon's residence.
The ruling Minjoo Party criticized Yoon's decision and said he will "have to bear responsibility for the side effects of the hasty relocation." "We will not sit by and condone unilateral and imperious practices," it insisted. The party's interim leader Yoon Ho-jung said, "Any relocation plans that violate the property rights of citizens simply to build a new home for the president must be stopped immediately."
Cheong Wa Dae will open to the public. It includes the main hall, the traditional Sangchunje guest house, and Nokjiwon garden, which has been described as one of the country's finest. Yoon added that banquets for visiting dignitaries could still be held at Cheong Wa Dae from time to time.
Cheong Wa Dae measures around 250,000 sq. m, three times bigger than the White House compound in Washington, and ordinary citizens are not allowed in unless they are attending a ceremony or have an official pass.
Some hiking trails on Mt. Bukak and Mt. Inwang behind the old palace which are currently off-limits will also be returned to the public. Military-zone restrictions around Cheong Wa Dae will be lifted to "enhance the convenience of locals and boost the value of the neighborhood," Yoon's transition team said.
The area around Choeng Wa Dae is currently subject to building height restrictions for security reasons.
The main building could be turned into a presidential memorial hall and the staff annex into a museum.
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