What They Said is a regular series on the quotes Korea is talking about.
Yoon Suk-yeol was elected president of the Republic of Korea on March 10, and one of the very first pledges of his campaign had been the relocation of the presidential office from Cheong Wa Dae to Gwanghwamun. This move had originally been pledged by President Moon Jae-in 10 years ago, but the Moon administration could not act on it because of security issues and a lack of space for relocating various facilities, including helicopter landing sites, rooms for receiving foreign dignitaries, and underground bunkers. Yoon argued that all the issues had been discussed and sorted out. However, on March 15, the People Power Party suddenly rolled back the relocation pledge, citing security concerns, and instead proposed the Ministry of National Defense building in Yongsan as the new location for the presidential office.
Currently, the People Power Party and the Democratic Party of Korea are butting heads over Yoon’s plan to relocate the presidential office to Yongsan by May 10, the day of his inauguration, and open up Cheong Wa Dae to the public.
As there has not been any public consultation regarding the relocation, people have taken their debates online, arguing about the issue in internet communities and in the comment sections under news articles. And since March 17, petitions have been popping up on the Cheong Wa Dae petition site as well.
One petitioner objected specifically to the new choice of location for the presidential office:
President-elect Yoon Suk-yeol’s forceful attempt to relocate the specialized facilities and systems in the Ministry of National Defense building, which are optimized as the last bastion and backbone of national security, in order to carve out his own office for his own satisfaction, not only threatens the Republic of Korea’s national security but also causes an enormous waste of national taxes. I strongly condemn this move, and I petition the National Assembly of the Republic of Korea to prevent the unilateral and coercive relocation of the Ministry of National Defense.
The Ministry of National Defense in Yongsan is a pivotal facility for national security and a core ministry equipped with special facilities and specialized systems, such as information systems, protective facilities, and specialized spaces, designed to optimally respond to internal and external security threats.
I have heard that it will cost hundreds of billions in taxes just to relocate the facilities and systems currently installed in the Ministry of National Defense. This means that President-elect Yoon will spend hundreds of billions of people’s hard-earned money to build his own office.
As a citizen of Korea, President-elect Yoon’s unreasonable and unconvincing demand to destroy the special facilities and specialized systems necessary for national security and rebuild them in another place without any justifiable reason other than his personal ambition is absolutely unacceptable.
The presidential term is five years at most. The people absolutely cannot agree to President-elect Yoon’s unreasonable demand to occupy for those five years the facilities and spaces of the Ministry of National Defense that have been used for those purposes for decades, or that he will spend hundreds of billions of won, paid for with the blood and sweat of the people, for his office, which will only last for five years.
The president-elect, who should be 1000% focused on the livelihood, economy, and pandemic response of the Republic of Korea, which is already in crisis, is currently demanding that the department responsible for public safety be forcibly moved to make way for his office and official residence, and that hundreds of billions of won of people’s hard-earned taxes should be spent on his office. The Korean people are against this plan.
Whether the president-elect finds a vacant building or renovates the facilities in Cheong Wa Dae, he must find a way that does not cause direct harm to the people. I strongly demand that his arrogant decision, which harms the safety of the people, is a waste of people’s money, and will make people’s daily lives inconvenient for five years, be stopped immediately.
I strongly condemn President-elect Yoon’s attempt to occupy the Ministry of National Defense building in order to make way for his own office, and I strongly petition Cheong Wa Dae and the National Assembly of the Republic of Korea to prevent him from being allowed to unilaterally dominate and forcefully relocate the facilities and systems of the Ministry of National Defense.
— Anonymous Petitioner, March 17, 2022.
This petition has gained over 360,000 signatures, which greatly exceeds the 200,000 necessary to receive a response from Cheong Wa Dae.
Another petitioner has requested that the president-elect go through with his pledge to relocate the presidential office:
I approve of the president-elect’s move to relocate the presidential office and official residence. I request that he makes sure to keep his promises.
Five years ago, President Moon Jae-in made the same promise to leave Cheong Wa Dae. He promised to be a president who would communicate with the people and pledged to become the president of Gwanghwamun.
Candidate Yoon Suk-yeol made the same promise, and since being elected he has made every effort to fulfill it and is in the process of making a tentative decision to relocate the presidential office to the Yongsan site.
I am very concerned that the promise may not be fulfilled due to the opposition from some people, so I am writing to petition that he fulfills the promise to relocate the presidential office.
Many professional architects are already emphasizing the advantages of the location in Yongsan and the disadvantages of the location of Cheong Wa Dae.
The following is a summary of the opinions of many people and the opinions of many architectural experts:
Advantages of relocating [the presidential office] to Yongsan
1. In the past, when walking was the main means of transportation, the center of the capital city was defined as the areas that were reachable on foot. One of the boundaries of the city center was the present Namdaemun. In other words, … the current location of Cheong Wa Dae, which is adjacent to Gyeongbokgung Palace, was great for a country like the Joseon Dynasty, prior to the Industrial Revolution.
However, in the present era of automobiles, the Seoul Metropolitan Area has been extended to Gangnam and has become much wider than the four main gates. I think it is right for the central axis of the capital city to move from Gyeongbokgung to Yongsan. I am in favor of opening this era of [the presidential office] in a new location in line with the changing times.
2. In the past, imperial dynasties, specifically in the era of monarchs with a strong symbolism of the king being the state, the current location of Cheong Wa Dae was good, as there is a hill on its left and Mt. Inwang on the right–the geographical features were great for safely protecting the symbolic and imperial presence of the king. However, in this era of the 4th industrial revolution, when awareness of human rights and of civil rights have risen steeply and all human beings are considered equal, we need a practical leader with practical skills to communicate with the people, not an imperial leader. In other words, considering the characteristics of the present era and in response to the coming era, I think it is right to move the presidential office to Yongsan, an open space in the city center, rather than staying hidden in the mountains in the current location.
A typical example is the White House in downtown Washington, DC. When the United States military base is relocated and the Yongsan Family Park is opened, it will become an open space for the people, and if [the presidential office] is located in the open park, the surrounding conditions will be similar to those of the White House. Above all, it will be a great location, matching the changing times, for a president who will be close to the people.
3. This is Korea, not the Joseon Dynasty.
Yongsan is geographically close to the National Assembly of the Republic of Korea and close to the National Cemetery, where people who sacrificed their lives for the Republic of Korea are buried. In the era of popular sovereignty, the Yongsan site will be a park for the public, and furthermore, it is close to the National Museum of Korea and the War Memorial of Korea. I think it is the best location for creating a district like Washington DC in Korea. I believe it is the best location for remembering the identity of the Republic of Korea and communicating with the people at the same time. People will be able to enjoy their free time on the lawn with their families at Yongsan Park, or, if they have children who are students, they can visit the nearby National Museum and War Memorial of Korea. I think the atmosphere could be similar to that of the White House in Washington DC, where cultural centers such as the Smithsonian are concentrated. Sometimes, the president will be able to chat with the citizens, while taking a walk with his staff, so the location of the presidential office in Yongsan seems to be the best choice.
4. The influence of the environment on human psychology has already been scientifically proven. Human beings are inevitably affected by spaces. Imperial emperors and dictators who rule over the people build ever more splendid palaces and castles in an attempt to emphasize themselves as completely different beings from the people. It is a common opinion of many architects that the size of Cheong Wa Dae is too large for the number of people living in it or the work they perform. In that huge space, the president is psychologically separated from the people, and this can be a hindrance for concentrating on current tasks and implementing policies and administration that reflect reality. We should not forget that the president in the era of popular sovereignty is not a king, but one of the ordinary people who has been entrusted with handling administrative tasks and running the country on behalf of the people.
5. Relocation of the Ministry of National Defense to Gyeryongdae, where the building of the Joint Chiefs of Staff is located, would enable more efficiency.
If the Ministry of National Defense is relocated to Gyeryongdae, where the chiefs of staff of the Army, Air Force, and Navy are gathered together, I think it will be possible to increase work efficiency by simplifying the workflow and bringing together the departments under the same ministry.
Many people who supported President-elect Yoon Suk-yeol are supporting and looking forward to the relocation of Cheong Wa Dae to Yongsan. I write this petition in the hope that he will not give up on his promise because of petitions from the radical opposition. Please be sure to keep your promises.
— Anonymous petitioner, March 18, 2022.
This petition has received a little over 60,000 signatures so far.
The current administration is taking a firm stance against the relocation of the presidential office to Yongsan before Yoon’s inauguration, for security reasons as well as issues involving costs and the logistics of relocating the Ministry of National Defense and the Joint Chiefs of Staff building, so it remains to be seen whether Yoon’s bid will be successful.