South Korea President-elect Yoon to move office to defence ministry site

Mr Yoon Suk-yeol said the new location will help enhance his office's communication with his Cabinet and the public. PHOTO: REUTERS

SEOUL (BLOOMBERG, REUTERS) - South Korea's President-elect Yoon Suk-yeol said the new presidential office will be relocated to the defence ministry's compound in central Seoul, crystallising his campaign pledge to make it more accessible to the public.

Mr Yoon, a former chief prosecutor who won the tight race on March 9, said the new location will help enhance his office's communication with his Cabinet and the public.

He also said he would move his official residence to Hannam-dong, a neighbourhood that houses many business executives and diplomats.

He had advocated moving the presidential office, also known as Blue House, away from its current location in Gwanghwamun, which is near historical sites and has heightened security.

"The Yongsan area's Defence Ministry and the Joint Chiefs of Staff is well equipped with national security status facilities," Mr Yoon said at a Sunday (March 20) briefing.

"We will open up the Blue House on May 10, the start of the term, and return it to the public."

The Ministry of Economy and Finance estimates the move will cost 49.6 billion won ($55.53 million), including relocating the defence ministry and renovating both the new office and official residence.

Mr Yoon’s plans have met with mixed reactions from South Koreans, as even supporters urge Mr Yoon to limit the inconvenience to people and businesses near the new locations.  

The Blue House move whipped up a fierce debate among feng shui experts after some rival Democratic Party officials accused Mr Yoon of being influenced by masters of the ancient form of geomancy that originated in China.

Feng shui masters have said the Blue House location was inauspicious. Four of the six presidents in the country’s 25-year democratic history have been imprisoned or killed themselves after leaving office.

The defence ministry in Yongsan district is 5km away from the current location of the presidential office, and some sceptics have denounced the move as expensive and unnecessary.

Mr Yoon’s team has dismissed any suggestions the move was influenced by such considerations, saying it would improve public access and communications with aides, and that the Blue House executive mansion had become a "royal palace," isolated and enclosed by forests and tight security.

Previous administrations, including that of current President Moon Jae-In, had pledged to move the presidential office, but failed each time due to security and logistical concerns.

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