Yoon personally sells his move to Yongsan
Yoon revealed his final decision in a press conference Sunday morning after deliberating between the Foreign Ministry in Gwanghwamun and the Defense Ministry in Yongsan District in central Seoul.
"It is a difficult task, but it is a decision made for the future of the country," Yoon told reporters at his transition team's office in Samcheong-dong in Jongno District. "Taking into consideration people's convenience and [the pledge] to open up the Blue House to the public, we decided it was right to move forward with the decision to swiftly relocate to Yongsan's Ministry of National Defense compound."
Yoon plans to begin work at the new presidential office in Yongsan on May 10, straight after his inauguration.
The Blue House compound, in turn, will be fully opened to the public at the beginning of his term, he said.
During the campaign, Yoon pledged to move the presidential office to the central government complex in Gwanghwamun, downtown Seoul, to make it less isolated and more approachable to the public and the press.
Addressing concerns that the Defense Ministry is also relatively isolated, Yoon said a public park will be built on land expected to be returned from the U.S. Forces Korea (USFK) later this year, to make the new presidential office more accessible to the public.
He shared plans to surround the presidential office with a low fence, as close to the main building as possible, to make it more approachable, similar to the White House in Washington.
Yoon's task force reviewed options to move the presidential office and found that moving into Gwanghwamun's Foreign Ministry would have brought considerable inconveniences to the residents and workers around there because of security issues, and would be more expensive.
The president-elect said that the Yongsan area, also home to the USFK's former garrison, was chosen because no new security regulations would be needed in the neighborhood if the presidential office is moved there.
He said the Defense Ministry is already equipped with underground bunkers, helipads and underway passages, adding that in times of emergency, the National Security Council can be convened there without any problem.
In contrast, the Gwanghwamun government complex does not have such facilities and there be difficulty relocating Foreign Ministry personnel. The 18-story Foreign Ministry is adjacent to the central government complex, near many other high-rise commercial buildings in downtown Seoul. Also, a Gwanghwamun presidential office would require the continued use of some Blue House facilities.
When asked why he made a campaign pledge switcheroo, Yoon said he learned new information after he was elected, explaining, "After I was briefed as president-elect, I learned the 'Gwanghwamun era' would almost certainly be a disaster for the citizens."
He pointed out as an example that if telecommunication services are blocked even for a few seconds or minutes in the area for security reasons, "it could cause considerable damage for companies or financial institutions" in the Gwanghwamun area.
Yoon said the core of his pledge was to "return the Blue House to the people."
He was adamant he would never move into the Blue House, calling it a "symbol of imperialism."
Yoon noted that presidential aides' offices were too far away, while the press was located in a separate building in the compound.
The traditional Korean-style Blue House compound, located in northern Gwanghwamun, at the foot of mountains behind Gyeongbok Palace, includes the main office, the official residence, the Yeongbingwan state guest house, Yeomingwan presidential secretariat, the Chunchugwan press center and outdoors gardens such as Nokjiwon.
It is the site of Korea's Goryeo (918-1392) and Joseon (1392-1910) era palaces and the location of the Japanese governor-general's official residence during Japan's 1910-1945 colonial rule of Korea. The venue was used as the Korean president's residence and office after the country's liberation and renamed Cheong Wa Dae, or the Blue House, in 1960. The iconic two-story main office building with the blue tile roof was completed in 1991.
Yoon's residence will likely be the official residence of the Army chief of staff, located three to five minutes by car from the defense ministry in nearby Hannam-dong. He has also reviewed the residences of the foreign minister and defense minister, located in the same neighborhood.
Yoon gave detailed plans for the new Yongsan presidential office.
A new press center will be located on the first floor of the presidential office building, giving journalists more access to the president, said Yoon.
His transition team estimates that the cost of relocating to the Defense Ministry will be around 49.6 billion won ($40.9 million), while moving to the Foreign Ministry would cost twice as much.
This includes 11.8 billion won to relocate the Defense Ministry into the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) building, 25.2 billion won for the remodeling of the main building, 9.97 billion won for the moving cost of the presidential security service and 2.5 billion won for the remodeling of the Hannam-dong office residence.
Yoon rejected reports that the relocation could cost between 500 billion won to 1 trillion won.
He said he will ask the current government for cooperation to use reserve funds, usually kept aside for natural disasters and other emergencies, for the relocation.
The presidential office relocation, however, means some major reshuffling within the Defense Ministry, which could cost more. The Defense Ministry will be moved to the adjacent JCS building.
"Since the return of land of nearby U.S. bases is scheduled from this year," Yoon said, "Yongsan Park can be quickly established so that the Defense Ministry can be used as a presidential office and for communication with the people."
Yun Ho-jung, head of the ruling Democratic Party's (DP) interim steering committee, in a press conference Sunday, called on Yoon to "withdraw the reckless and rushed presidential office relocation plan, which harms national security and infringes upon people's property rights."
With just 50 days left in the transition process, Yun said, "It is a national misfortune to waste precious time on his office and housing problems."
BY SARAH KIM [firstname.lastname@example.org]