[FOUNTAIN]The true value of zero

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[FOUNTAIN]The true value of zero

The Arabic numeral 0 was invented in India. When we translate 0 into Chinese, we often use ryeong, which literally means zero. But sometimes it is translated into gong, which means void. To be exact, however, the Chinese character gong does not originate from 0 but from the Sanskrit word sunya, which means both zero and void.

Sunya in the broad sense denotes the meaning of lacking or nothing carried in the Chinese character ryeong and also the notion of emptiness, gong, which essentially means "negation of a permanent substance," and "negation of an everlasting existence" in Mahayana Buddhism.

The multitude of meanings behind 0 are reflected in the realpolitik of today's world.

During the Reagan administration, the United States proposed the so-called "zero option." The deal was that if the former Soviet Union withdrew the SS-20 missiles targeting Western Europe, the United States would cancel plans to deploy Pershing-II and cruise missiles. The idea was to swap the existing threat posed by the Soviet Union with the potential threat of the U.S. missiles. Thereby, reducing the threat to zero. It was also called the Zero Choice, which essentially boiled down to whether the two countries would make the decision to reduce the missile threat to nil, or zero-level.

On the other hand, there was the Zero Agreement, which was forced on the former republics of the Soviet Union by Russia and the international community when the Soviet Union disintegrated. The agreement entailed that Russia would take over all the credit rights and debts of the Soviet Union agreed on with Western countries. The former republics, by giving up credit rights and obligations, in turn would be rewarded independence and Western aid. All the parties involved, with the exception of Ukraine, signed onto the Zero Agreement, opening a new page in the history of the former Soviet Union.

In a similar vein, we can understand Ground Zero, the site of the Sept. 11 terrorist attack in New York. The United States has shown that in despair a new beginning can be found; a notion that the Chinese character gong embodies.

Watching Korean politics these days, there are many people who say, "If we can, it is better to turn everything to zero and start over."

The mantra uttered by political leaders that a "revolutionary change" is called for gives rise to these sentiments. Bear in mind the perception of zero can make a situation positive or negative.

The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Kim Seok-whan

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