Yoon's relocation causes headaches for Defense Ministry
Yoon takes office on May 10, leaving some 50 days for the move, remodeling and security work to be completed.
The presidential office will move into the 10-story main Defense Ministry building.
However, there are around 1,100 personnel working in the ministry's main building, who will now have to be relocated from as early as this month.
Government officials said that they will have to be dispersed to around 10 locations within and outside the Defense Ministry compound, with only a few key departments, such as the defense minister's office, deemed suitable to move into the adjacent Korean Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) building.
One government official expressed worry after Yoon's press conference Sunday saying, "Considering the period of time needed to remodel the Ministry of National Defense building into the presidential office, it seems that the move will have to be completed by the end of this month."
The official said, "Starting today, we have no choice but to finalize the moving schedule and pack our bags."
The compound is said to have enough room to house the Defense Ministry for now, but Yoon said he expects that the JCS will eventually move out to join the war command headquarters, leaving the Defense Ministry focused more on the policy side of security.
A national park will be built on the returned land, next to the Defense Ministry compound, to make the presidential office more approachable for the public. The presidential residence is expected to be in Hannam-dong, around five minutes away by car.
The compound covers some 276,000 square meters and houses the Defense Ministry's main building, the JCS headquarters, the Cyber Operations Command and other military facilities and agencies. Over 4,000 personnel work on the compound.
The Defense Ministry building does not have sliding windows due to security issues and the front gate of the building is on an incline meaning it is impossible to load and unload furniture or boxes at a high speed using a ladder truck.
The government official said, "In the end, we have to move with the four elevators in the office building. This is the reason why people say that it will be difficult to complete the move within the given time, even if it is fully operated 24 hours a day."
A big concern, both within and outside the military, is the possibility of a North Korean cyber attack, said military sources, among other underlying security concerns.
A military source told the JoongAng Ilbo, "In the past, there have been instances of security breaches when a moving company employee mistakenly connected the defense intranet to the Internet in the process of transferring the data facilities of the Joint Chiefs of Staff."
Some officials are concerned that that there might even be a disruption in national security if North Korea carries out a major provocation, such as the launch of an intercontinental ballistic missile or a nuclear test, as has been predicted.
Military authorities are closely monitoring the possibility that North Korea may carry out such tests around late former leader Kim Il Sung's 110th anniversary birthday on April 15.
"We are moving in a hurry in a situation where a system is not well established," a military official, who requested anonymity, said. "It is really difficult to imagine the Ministry of National Defense as a ministry that only deals with policies."
This official said that the Defense Ministry has been operating a 24-hour defense posture regarding North Korea.
When asked about such security concerns involving the moving of the Defense Ministry during Sunday's press conference, Yoon described the agency as one that deals with "policies" as opposed to the Pentagon in the United States.
Some defense officials are also concerned the move could even affect the South Korea-U.S. joint springtime military exercise scheduled for next month.
"The relocation of the presidential office will lead to the moving of the Ministry of National Defense and the Joint Chiefs of Staff which will of course affect the [joint military] training," said a military source. "We have a situation where we have to prepare for moving and training simultaneously."
Lawmakers of the ruling Democratic Party also raised concern that the presidential transition team's estimated budget of 49.6 billion won ($40.9 million) allocated for the move is misleading, saying it doesn't cover the cost of the park's construction around the presidential office, nor the state guesthouse for foreign dignitaries, among other expenses.
A government source said, "The 50 billion won is just the cost of relocating the presidential office to the Defense Ministry," adding that all expenses put together could actually cost over 500 billion won.
Yoon has rejected reports that the cost of relocation could cost over 100 billion won.
Some within military even say that they feel "betrayed" over the plan to relocate the Defense Ministry, especially taking into consideration Yoon's campaign pledges to bolster national security.
A high-ranking military official, who requested anonymity, said, "In this election, the conservatives have been trending with security-focused supporters. With this, we hear a lot of complaints, such as feeling betrayed."
The relocation plan has also been met with mixed reactions from the public. Some Yongsan residents have raised concerns, especially about heavy traffic it might cause when the president commutes. Likewise, flight space around the area is expected to be restricted.
Others applaud the building of a national park and making the presidential office closer to the people, transforming Yongsan into the heart of Seoul, similar to what the White House in Washington may symbolize for Americans and tourists.
BY KIM SANG-JIN, SARAH KIM [email@example.com]