South Korea's outgoing liberal government expressed its opposition Monday to a plan by its rival and conservative President-elect Yoon Suk-yeol to relocate the presidential office by his inauguration in May, a development that could put Yoon's ambitious project in doubt and trigger a domestic political firestorm. On Sunday, Yoon said he'd abandon the current mountainside presidential palace of Blue House and begin his term at a new office established at the Defense Ministry compound in Seoul on May 10, per the AP. Yoon said his plan requires Defense Ministry staff move to the nearby Joint Chiefs of Staff building at the compound.
Yoon said he chose the Defense Ministry compound because it's already equipped with security-related command facilities. He noted his relocation plans are meant to better communicate with the public, saying the location and design of the Blue House have contributed to South Korean leaders being cut off from the public and wielding "imperial power." But his announcement quickly invited criticism that a hasty relocation of top security-related offices would weaken South Korea's national security, cause a confusion in state affairs, and inconvenience the public. Critics say he faces many other urgent tasks such as how to revive pandemic-hit livelihoods and ease North Korean nuclear threats.
The presidential office of departing President Moon Jae-in said it held a national security council meeting Monday to discuss Yoon's plan. After the meeting, senior presidential official Park Soo-hyun said council members determined Yoon's relocation schedule is too tight and that it would be more appropriate to move such top offices after sufficient preparations. Park said it's necessary to look at concerns that "abrupt" and "unprepared" relocations could cause "a security vacuum and chaos" at a time when North Korea raises animosities with missile tests. Park said Moon's government would relay its position to Yoon's power transition team.
The Blue House is where all South Korean presidents have lived and worked since the country's foundation in 1948. At the massive Blue House compound, offices for presidential advisers and the press room aren't in the same building where the president works and are hundreds of yards apart. To realize his relocation plan, Yoon would need Moon's support, as the current government must formulate a budget to pay for the cost of the moves. Yoon said the relocation would cost about $41 million. Yoon's People Power Party reportedly requested Moon's government to allocate the necessary budget immediately.
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