October 12, 2023
SEOUL – Controversy over the former presidential office, Cheong Wa Dae, emerged once again with a lawmaker pointing out a change in regulations for its use during a parliamentary audit.
Lee Byung-hoon, a lawmaker of the opposition Democratic Party of Korea, criticized the government, alleging that it has failed to fulfill its promise to return Cheong Wa Dae to the people, as the presidential office continues to use the facilities without restrictions.
Lee further pointed out that the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism in May revised the regulations related to Cheong Wa Dae usage, allowing the presidential office to use the facilities without prior approval, effectively bypassing the previous approval process.
“With the revision, the presidential office can now use the Cheong Wa Dae facilities without any restrictions. Despite the budget allocated for the purpose (of opening Cheong Wa Dae to the public), the president’s promise has not been realized,” Lee said.
Responding to Lee’s claims, the Culture Ministry said that the revision was made due to security considerations related to state visits, diplomatic events and the president’s schedule, a matter of national security. It was difficult to apply the previous approval procedure in such cases, the ministry said.
In addition, the revision also includes improving the accessibility of Cheong Wa Dae for the public to allow more people to buy tickets on-site, the ministry explained. The revision adds patriots and veterans to the group of people who can buy tickets on-site, which includes those who are 65 and older, foreigners and individuals with disabilities.
During his run for the presidency, President Yoon Suk Yeol promised to return the complex to the public. The administration estimated that the opening would create economic benefits worth 200 billion won ($149 million) each year.
The presidential office relocated to the Ministry of National Defense building in Seoul’s Yongsan district upon Yoon’s inauguration in May 2022, and the Culture Ministry was tasked with turning Cheong Wa Dae into a cultural complex.
Since its opening to the public, a number of exhibitions, concerts and other cultural events have taken place there. Meanwhile, the president’s office had to host various domestic and international events at venues such as the National Museum of Korea, Defense Convention, hotels, the president’s residence and the prime minister’s residence. In September last year, the president’s office asked for a budget of 87.8 billion won ($65 million) for a new state reception hall but Yoon canceled the plan amid criticism.
In December 2022, the reception for Vietnamese President Nguyen Xuan Phuc was held at Yeongbingwan, the former reception hall of Cheong Wa Dae, and since then the venue has been used for similar purposes.
From December 2022 to August 2023, the presidential office used Yeongbingwan for 110 days, according to Democratic Party lawmaker Lee.
As of the end of September 2023, over 4.22 million people have visited Cheong Wa Dae since its opening, according to the Culture Ministry. “With proper management, we are putting utmost efforts to ensure the opening of Cheong Wa Dae benefits the public,” the ministry said.