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President, successor clash escalates over relocation plans

President-elect Yoon Suk-yeol (left) President Moon Jae-in (Yonhap)
President-elect Yoon Suk-yeol (left) President Moon Jae-in (Yonhap)
The plan to move the presidential office is bringing the incumbent and incoming administrations to a loggerhead, with each side raising concerns and complaints.

President Moon Jae-in on Tuesday stressed the need to maintain readiness, in an apparent reference to President-elect Yoon Suk-yeol’s plans to relocate the offices of the president, Ministry of National Defense and Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Saying that the country currently faces a dire situation “inside and outside,” Moon said that there should be no security vacuum.

“Amid the international security environment in which a new Cold War structure is being formed, tensions are also rising on the Korean Peninsula,” Moon said. “It is time for our military to maintain its highest level of security readiness, and there should not be even the slightest insecure factor in security.”

“During the change of government, we should be more vigilant and strive to manage the situation on the Korean Peninsula stably,” he said.

Moon’s senior aide for public relations Park Soo-hyun also held five media interviews on the day, explaining that while the Moon administration is not opposed to the relocation, it is concerned about the security vacuum the relocation could create. Park said it is not a matter of conflict between new and old powers, but a security issue that should be discussed and resolved together.

Tuesday’s comments from Moon came a day after an unscheduled meeting of the National Security Council where participants concluded that it is impossible to relocate the Ministry of National Defense, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the presidential office, secretariat and security office in such a short time, citing a possible security vacuum.

Yoon and his aides have stated on numerous occasions that the new administration will not move into Cheong Wa Dae, and that Yoon will begin his first day in office at the new location.

However, if the discord continues it will be difficult for Yoon to secure the budget for the relocation.

According to Yoon’s side, 49.6 billion won ($40 million) is needed to relocate the presidential office, and an additional 120 billion won is needed to relocate the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

The transition committee applied for the necessary reserve funds for the relocation of the office. But Cheong Wa Dae, which said the plan was unreasonable, said it would be difficult to submit the proposal to the cabinet meeting immediately. The presidential office, which held a cabinet meeting on Tuesday, did not propose the plan. The reserve funds will be decided by the president after deliberation in a cabinet meeting.

Even if the reserve funds of 49.6 billion won are approved through a cabinet meeting before Yoon takes office, follow-up measures and additional transfers have to be financed through a supplementary budget. To get a supplementary budget, the National Assembly’s approval is required. As the current majority Democratic Party strongly opposes the move of the presidential office, there is a possibility that the plan could be delayed.

Regarding the relocation, Yongsan-gu Mayor Sung Jang-hyun also expressed disapproval.

“(With the relocation of the US military base) we now have a chance to extend Yongsan-gu, but we are worried that the development plan will be canceled or contracted due to the entry of the presidential office,” he told reporters on Monday.

If that happens, the people of Yongsan-gu will be devastated, he said.

Sung also criticized Yoon, saying the announcement of the relocation to Yongsan-gu was made without prior consultation with the district.

“No one has ever told the head of the district office (about the relocation of the office) or asked if it would be good to do this,” he said. “Is it communication (that Yoon talks about) when there is no talk at all?”

According to a recent poll, a majority of respondents expressed opposition to the presidential office relocation plan.

A polling agency called Media Tomato conducted a poll on 1,018 men and women aged 18 or older across the country between Saturday and Sunday. Regarding Yoon’s relocation plan, 58.1 percent said the current presidential office should stay in Cheong Wa Dae, while only 33.1 percent said they were in favor of the relocation.

Yoon told reporters on Sunday that he would move the office even if the public opinion was negative.

He is well aware of the concern that the relocation may be “too hasty,” but once he enters Cheong Wa Dae, it will be more challenging to get out. Yoon has called Cheong Wa Dae “a symbol of imperial power.”

“Rather than following a poll, it is more important to make decisions based on the philosophy of the person in charge of the government,” Yoon said.

By Shin Ji-hye (shinjh@heraldcorp.com)
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