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[News Focus] Plans for new presidential residence raise concerns
Foreign minister’s official residence is more than just a home, serves as venue for diplomatic affairs
Published : Apr 21, 2022 - 16:22
Updated : Apr 21, 2022 - 16:22
This photo taken on March 20 shows the entrance to a compound where official residences of ministers and military chiefs of staff is located, in Yongsan, Seoul. (Yonhap)

President-elect Yoon Suk-yeol is reviewing the foreign minister’s residence as a new candidate to use as the presidential residence, after finding that the initial choice, the residence of the Army chief of staff, would cost too much to renovate.

But with the change in decision coming less than three weeks before the presidential inauguration, it has been met with public criticisms for being “helter-skelter” in handling the relocation.

As the official residence of the foreign minister is often used as a venue for diplomatic events, the transition team’s plans, which do not yet include an alternative for the foreign minister, have also raised concerns.

The presidential transition committee, which operates a task force on the presidential office relocation, said Wednesday it is now reviewing to see if the official residence of the foreign minister in Hannam-dong in Yongsan, Seoul, is suitable to relocate the current presidential residence in Jongno.

After an overall review of their initial option, the transition office concluded that their initial option, the residence of the Army’s Chief of Staff, is “too old and run down.”

The residence, built in 1975, is not suitable to accommodate all the necessary security facilities for the president and it would be too costly to remodel it, a transition team official said.

But because the presidential inauguration is on May 10 -- less than three weeks away -- the president-elect will not be able to move in right away and start his presidential duty commuting from the foreign minister’s residence, the presidential transition team said.

“The incumbent foreign minister would be using the residence until May 10. Even if we finalize the decision (on the foreign minister’s residence) before the inauguration, it is unlikely that the president-elect will move in right away,” the transition team’s senior deputy spokesperson Won Il-hee said.

“We expect it is inevitable (for the president-elect) to commute to the new presidential office from his home in Seocho (in southern Seoul) for now.”

The foreign minister’s residence is one of six official residences for ministerial posts in the Hannam area, close to the Defense Ministry compound where the president-elect chose to relocate the presidential office.

Reversing the original plan for the second time regarding the election pledge to relocate the presidential office, Yoon’s office came under fire as being “hasty” in making a weighty decision.

As a presidential candidate, Yoon had first pledged to relocate the presidential office, which he claimed as being deeply hidden inside Jongno, to Gwanghwamun in the more central area of Seoul -- only to change the plan a couple of weeks after he was elected president.

The Foreign Ministry also appeared to be perplexed with the transition team’s announcement, as it had not been officially informed.

When asked if it is currently in discussion with the presidential transition team over the relocation, the ministry’s spokesperson Choi Young-sam said it is not, as the ministry had not been notified of the decision in the first place.

The official residence for the foreign minister serves as more than home for the minister, as many diplomatic events and meetings are held there, according to a Foreign Ministry official.

Not only for foreign envoys and visiting guests, the residence provides a venue for gatherings and meetings inviting diplomats from around 100 countries that are stationed here, the official explained.

While not all events are open to the public, incumbent Foreign Minister Chung Eui-yong held a luncheon with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi on Sept. 15.

The foreign minister also held meetings with United Nations Command commander Paul LaCamera and John Aquilino, commander of the United States Indo-Pacific Command, in the official residence, among other cases.

Even though the new government will begin working from May 10, the transition team has not yet provided options on where the foreign minister’s official residence would be moved.

Foreign Minister nominee Park Jin said he would just accept whatever the presidential transition committee decides, for the residence relocation.

By Jo He-rim (herim@heraldcorp.com)
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