[FOUNTAIN] When in the Wrong, Say Sorry

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[FOUNTAIN] When in the Wrong, Say Sorry

The Japanese word, owabi, is usually employed to express a feeling somewhere between regret and a full apology.

On Oct. 8, 1998, Korean President Kim Dae-jung and the then Japanese Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi adopted the Japan-Republic of Korea Joint Declaration of a New Japan-ROK Partnership Toward the 21st Century. In this joint declaration, Mr. Obuchi regarded "in a spirit of humility the historical fact that Japan, during a certain period in the past, caused tremendous damage and suffering to the people of the Republic of Korea through its colonial rule." He expressed his "deep remorse and heartfelt apology for this fact." In the Japanese language text of the joint declaration, Mr. Obuchi "made owabi" to Korea.

Working-level diplomats of the two countries reportedly had difficulties translating owabi into the Korean language. While Korea wanted to translate the word as "apology," Japan wanted to avoid such a direct expression. Although the joint declaration in the Korean language now reads "apology," the Japanese government still argues today that what it expressed was owabi - not an apology.

The Japanese government's gestures to apologize for past atrocities are nothing more than playing with words. In 1965, upon the normalization of diplomatic relations, the Japanese government said that it would "keep in mind" the Korean government's comments about the unfortunate relations of the two countries in the past. Such a statement is far too shallow to be considered an apology. The scuffling over terminology occurred again in 1983, 1990, 1993 and then 1995. As the controversy over the Japanese history textbook shows, Japan has failed to re-evaluate its understanding of the past, even though its expressions of apology have changed a number of times. Such veering between different expressions shows that they are only diplomatic rhetoric.

These days tension between the United States and China has been heightened over the mid-air military collision. The United States officially expressed "regret," but China demanded an "apology." Now, the United States is quietly sounding China out to see if "sorry" will do. It seems that the United States hopes to settle the incident diplomatically.

Considering the compensation at stake and national pride of the countries concerned, it seems that neither will yield easily. But it is worrying to see them fighting over mere diplomatic rhetoric. The United States initiated the conflict by sending its reconnaissance plane to spy on China, so the United States should give China the clear apology it demands. Only then should it inquire into its own concerns. That would be a dignified response from the world's sole super-power.




by Bae Myung-bok

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