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Blue House scraps Gwanghwamun move

Moon ran on promise to bring presidential office closer to people
Jan 07,2019
The Moon Jae-in administration announced Friday that it will indefinitely postpone its plan to move the presidential office from the Blue House, breaking one of the central promises Moon made during the last presidential election.

“We have reached the conclusion that there is no alternative space in the current government building complex at Gwanghwamun that can be used as key facilities to replace the Blue House’s main hall, reception hall, helipad, etcetera,” said Yoo Hong-jun, an advisory member of the presidential committee tasked with preparing for the move.

“The plans to move the presidential office to Gwanghwamun and open the Blue House to the public will be delayed as a long-term project to be undertaken after ongoing renovations of Gwanghwamun Square have been completed.”

When he ran in the May 2017 snap election following the ouster of former President Park Geun-hye, Moon promised that he would move the presidential office out of its current secluded grounds behind Gyeongbok Palace to a location near Gwanghwamun Square in order to reduce the physical distance between the president and the public.

Most of the current Blue House grounds were to be designated an extensive historic and cultural area in Jongno District stretching from Jongmyo Shrine to Seochon - a part of Seoul that served as the capital’s historic center during the Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910).

Little progress had been made to pursue this goal since Moon became president, but Yoo, the former head of the Cultural Heritage Administration, was appointed to lead a presidential committee last February to organize the relocation.

After months of appraisals to find suitable locations around Gwanghwamun Square, the committee concluded that the government building complex that was originally selected as a potential Blue House replacement lacked the necessary space and facilities to accommodate the presidential office, Yoo said at a press briefing at the Blue House on Friday.

The president’s daily commute to this building from his residence in the inner grounds of the Blue House would incur higher security costs and could disrupt traffic in the area, he added.

To solve this issue, the government has opted for a long-term plan to streamline the logistics of the move, which include the possibility of relocating the presidential residence altogether, Yoo added. The revised plan would include opening the Blue House to the public by connecting its front entrance with Gyeongbok Palace. All of this will be pursued once the Seoul Metropolitan Government’s renovation of the area is complete.

The Seoul city government is preparing to undertake a massive project to overhaul Gwanghwamun Square by turning a 69,300-square-meter (17.1-acre) area in front of Gyeongbok Palace into an automobile-free public square by redirecting the roads that crisscross the plaza underground. Plans for the enlarged square unveiled last April showed the new area would be 3.7 times larger than its current state, and the entrance to the palace would be restored to its historic form. Yoo said Friday that the results of the public appraisal of the city’s project would be announced next week.

Provided everything goes according to plan, the project is estimated to be completed in May 2021, when Moon would only have a year left in his term. Analysts say relocating the presidential office and residence at that point in time would be politically unfeasible, so it may be safe to conclude that his campaign promise has been, in effect, discarded.

BY SHIM KYU-SEOK [shim.kyuseok@joongang.co.kr]