The presidential palace of Cheong Wa Dae was opened to the public with the inauguration of President Yoon Seok-youl. Former presidents Roh Moo-hyun and Moon Jae-in had both pledged to move the presidential office out of Cheong Wa Dae, but ended up staying when they were seduced by the splendor and isolation of their residence. But Yoon showed stiffer resolve and succeeded in ending the era of the Blue House, which dates back to the country’s founding in 1948. This day will be remembered as an important milestone in Korea’s modern history.
Cheong Wa Dae has symbolized the excessive power of Korea’s presidency. Formerly an extension of Gyeongbok Palace and the official residence of the viceroy during Japan’s occupation of Korea and also the residence of the top U.S. military commander after World War II, Cheong Wa Dae had always been off-limits to the public.
The 250,000-sq.m compound is more than three times the size of the White House, and the distance between the main presidential office building and the offices of his secretaries is more than half a kilometer. That is why the top office has been described as a royal palace. Former Cheong Wa Dae secretaries said they had to drive five minutes or walk 10 minutes to get to the president for briefings. In contrast, the U.S. president’s advisors and staff work just down the hall.
Yoon began his presidency by being briefed by the Joint Chiefs of Staff at the national crisis center in the new presidential office in Yongsan. This is a 10-story building that houses the top office as well as those of his secretaries and reporters, allowing for a smooth flow of communication,
But the physical relocation of the top office alone cannot end of the era of “imperial” presidencies. It remains to be seen if the new president will keep his promise of maintaining horizontal communication with his Cabinet, opposition lawmakers and the public. His tenure has just begun, but people are already scratching their heads how Yoon is handling appointments and suspicions surrounding some of his ministerial nominees. Let us hope he can hold firm to his promises.
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