Marking end of Blue House era, Yoon makes first commute to Yongsan office

Posted on : 2022-05-10 16:58 KST Modified on : 2022-05-10 16:58 KST
Yoon reportedly chose the fifth floor of the MND building because it overlooks Yongsan Park, enabling passersby to “see the president working”
The Ministry of National Defense building, now the site of the presidential office, flies a banner for Yoon Suk-yeol’s inauguration, the day prior to Yoon beginning his term. (Yonhap News)
The Ministry of National Defense building, now the site of the presidential office, flies a banner for Yoon Suk-yeol’s inauguration, the day prior to Yoon beginning his term. (Yonhap News)

President Yoon Suk-yeol officially commenced his duties as the nation’s leader as he received a report from the Joint Chiefs of Staff at the newly established national emergency management center at the presidential office in Seoul’s Yongsan District at 00:00 am on Tuesday. The move was a symbolic one suggesting that Yoon, as South Korea’s new president, was transferred military leadership without a hitch, as his abrupt push to relocate the presidential office out of the Blue House stirred concerns regarding gaps in national security.

Yoon will commute to Yongsan from the Seocho neighborhood of Seoul for the first 30 to 40 days of his term while the official residence of the foreign minister in the Hannam neighborhood continues to be remodeled.

Though many worried that moving the function of the Blue House’s underground bunker to the new presidential office in Yongsan would pose challenges, Yoon’s camp explained that the process was concluded according to plan, emphasizing that the underground bunker in Yongsan is much safer than the old one in the Blue House.

During a phone call with the Hankyoreh, an official with Yoon’s team explained that “as it is only 20 years old, the Ministry of National Defense building is much stronger [than the Blue House], and the national emergency management center has been established deeper in the ground on the third as well as the second basement level [of the Defense Ministry building] for increased safety.”

Yoon’s camp also stated that the air defense system did not need to be significantly readjusted to ensure the aerial protection of the Yongsan presidential office, explaining that the location is amply covered by the Patriot battery, an air defense system with a maximum range of 30 to 40 kilometers. The radius of prohibited airspace has been reduced to 3.7 kilometers from 8.4 kilometers and is under test application. Yoon’s camp added that “drones will not pose a threat if an area where flying [them] is permitted is designated and [their] flight direction is regulated.”

Still, it’s unprecedented and extremely worrying that a president will be residing in his private residence in Seocho and commuting to and from the presidential office in Yongsan. Until the remodeling for the foreign minister’s official residence in Hannam is finished in early to mid-June, the president will inevitably have to commute a distance of 6.5 kilometers between Seocho and Yongsan by car.

Reportedly, Yoon will be traveling between his home and the presidential office via four different routes, three of which pass through the US Army’s garrison in Yongsan and one of which passes through the front gate of the Defense Ministry compound, where the Yongsan presidential office is located.

Yoon’s team stated that a national leadership communication vehicle will be stationed near Yoon’s private residence in Seocho so that emergency situations can be responded to, but a crucial detail will be whether Yoon will be able to quickly respond to unexpected incidents without causing gaps in national security.

Kim Jong-dae, a former lawmaker who is also a military expert, said, “How [the Yoon administration] responds to incidents like the sinking of the ROKS Cheonan and the bombardment of Yeonpyeong Island, which were impossible to predict, is more important than how [it] responds to predictable incidents like North Korea’s ballistic missile launches.”

The new presidential office has been established on the second and fifth floors of the Yongsan government office building. Because it’s hard to catch a glimpse of Yongsan Park from the main presidential office on the second floor, a secondary presidential office has been established on the fifth floor of the building as well. This was in accordance with Yoon’s wish to “enable the public to see the president working in his office while on a stroll at the park whenever they please, as psychological communion itself is very important.”

The South Korea-US summit between Yoon and US President Joe Biden, to be held on May 21, will take place at the fifth-floor presidential office. On the second floor, where the main presidential office is located, will be the office of the president’s chief of staff, while the office of the senior presidential secretaries will occupy the third floor and the security office will occupy the fourth floor.

By Seo Young-ji, staff reporter

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