The Seoul city government and Junggu District Office have complained that the British Embassy is illegally blocking the entrance to an alley adjacent to Deoksugung Palace.
The alley occupies a narrow kilometer-long sliver between a wall of the British Embassy and a wall of the northeast corner of the historic palace in the Jeong-dong neighborhood of downtown Seoul.
The British Embassy here said that it has been leasing the area since the 1950s, and an embassy spokesperson expressed irritation that the two local authorities would make it an issue at this time.
“We find it astonishing that this is being raised at this time, when President Park is due to visit the United Kingdom in November. This is the 130th anniversary of diplomatic relations, and this issue is being raised now,” said Colin Gray, head of Media & Public Affairs at the British Embassy.
This year President Park Geun-hye is scheduled to meet Queen Elizabeth II when she goes to the U.K. on Nov. 4-7. Also this year, the South Korean and British governments celebrate 130 years since diplomatic relations were first inked in 1883.
Shortly after relations were established in 1883, the buildings for the British diplomatic mission were constructed beside Deoksugung Palace.
The Jeong-dong neighborhood is home to a number of other historic buildings, including a 19th-century structure built for the first Russian legation, the United States ambassador’s residence and the Seoul Anglican Cathedral.
“The British Embassy should present proof that it, in fact, did lease the land, and from which local authority it leased it,” said Hyung Tae-kyeong, an official at the road and environment office of the Seoul city government, to the Korea Herald.
There is also a dispute over whether a local authority can even demand proof of the lease from the British Embassy, due to the mission’s diplomatic status.
“We are a diplomatic mission. So, if the Seoul City government or the Junggu District Office wants to raise this issue with a diplomatic mission, they should go through the appropriate channel, which would be the Foreign Ministry,” Gray said.
The city has not yet filed a request with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Hyung said.
By Philip Iglauer (firstname.lastname@example.org