South Korea’s cabinet approved nearly $30 million on Wednesday to help president-elect Yoon Suk-yeol move the presidential office and residence from the traditional Blue House, clearing the way for a plan initially criticised by the current administration as rushed and a threat to national security.
Yoon, breaking with tradition, plans to move the presidential office from the Blue House to the defence ministry compound, a step estimated to cost $40 million ultimately, reported by Reuters.
North Korea has tested a series of increasingly powerful missiles, and Seoul says the North may be preparing to resume nuclear tests for the first time since 2017. This week North Korea warned that it would strike the South with nuclear weapons if attacked.
The Blue House move has been met with mixed reactions in South Korea.
Residents and environmentalists protested Wednesday outside the current defence ministry compound, saying a rushed move could derail a project to establish a national park at a former U.S. military base in the neighbourhood, and cause traffic congestion, Yonhap news agency reported.
Yonhap also cited an unnamed official as saying the defence ministry had started preparations for its relocation to a nearby building.
Elected in a tight vote on March 9, the conservative Yoon has called the Blue House a symbol of an “imperial presidency” and said he wanted to make the move immediately after his inauguration on May 10.
The administration of incumbent President Moon Jae-in, a liberal who was barred from running again by term limits, initially raised concerns about the plan to move the presidential office, requiring the relocation of the defence ministry in a matter of weeks. It said a rushed move could “create a security vacuum and confusion” at a time of tensions with North Korea.
But Moon later called on his cabinet to approve the needed funds, and on Wednesday the panel set aside 36 billion won ($29.5 million) in reserve government funds for the initial costs. Additional funding will discussed later, the government said.
Prime Minister Kim Boo-kyum, who presided over the cabinet meeting, said the decision was made to ensure a “smooth government transition without a security vacuum”.