“This is groundless, we will never move as long as I’m here in Korea.”
So Indonesian Ambassador Nicholas Dammen firmly stated about rumors that his government and embassy is entertaining the possibility of moving their chancery and compound to another location.
The embassy, which is located on prime real estate, has been the focus of several hawkish, clandestine developers in South Korea and Indonesia hoping to persuade the Foreign Ministry in Jakarta to sell the Yeouido complex.
“There are at least three companies behind this from both countries and they don’t identify themselves,” he added.
The Indonesian Embassy in Yeouido (Wasito Achmad)
The land was purchased from the Korean government in 1974 for a mere $35,000 by the first Indonesian ambassador to Seoul, the late Sarwo Edhie Wibowo.
As part of the Han River development project in 1970, late President Park Chung-hee built a six-lane bridge connecting the island to the mainland of Yeongdeungpo and Mapo districts.
Also at that time and part of the island’s development plans, the local government offered the first pick of land to embassies. Only the Indonesians accepted the deal and now they are sitting on some impressive and expensive land while, privately, some other ambassadors wish that their predecessors had taken the deal.
“This is a historic place for us,” said Dammen “because the first ambassador who bought this land is the father-in-law of the current (Indonesian) president,” Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.
After purchasing the land, Wibowo immediately built the chancery and ambassador’s residence. An apartment building housing Indonesian diplomats and their families, and a tennis court were later added.
Today, the 8.4 square kilometer island is home to about 32,000 people. It has grown to become Seoul’s main business and investment banking district and contains the National Assembly, the Korean Financial Investment Associations and the large Yoido Full Gospel Church as well at the once-tallest building in the nation, the 63 Building, and the headquarters for LG, KBS, MBC and the Korea Exchange Center.
According to 16th century geographical records, the island was used to graze sheep and goats. In the 21st century, Yeouido is referred to as Korea’s Manhattan or the nation’s Wall Street.
By Yoav Cerralbo (firstname.lastname@example.org)