The power of sincere apologyAfter the crash landing of Asiana Airlines Flight 214 in San Francisco, Koreans living in China were most concerned about vehement Chinese nationalism. The grief and sympathy for three Chinese high school girls who died in the accident could turn into rage against Koreans. If Weibo, the Chinese version of Twitter with over 300 million members, leads the antagonism, anti-Korean waves would spread around China.
Thankfully, however, the Chinese public is maintaining composure over 10 days after the accident. They remained calm even when a local Channel A anchor made an insensitive comment. The anchor said, “It’s been reported that two Chinese people, not Koreans, were killed in the plane crash. If we look at it from our point of view, that is fortunate.” If so, why are the Chinese not stirred? The reaction seems to be affected by a sincere apology and condolence.
On July 7, the day after the accident, the Korean Embassy in China posted a letter of condolence in Korean and Chinese on its Web site. The embassy also promised to take all necessary measures in the aftermath of the accident. A Chinese professor commented, “It certainly is a diplomatic formality, but it sounds sincere. This may be the first letter of condolence posted by a foreign legation when Chinese nationals died abroad.”
The next day, President Park Geun-hye sent a letter expressing condolence to Chinese President Xi Jinping to share the pain of the Chinese. It may be a natural diplomatic act between state leaders, but her letter was especially sincere as they confirmed their long friendship at the summit meeting in Beijing last month. At the Korea-China friendship week event on July 9, Li Jinhua, the Communist Party secretary of Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region, said that the incident would not affect the development of Korea-China relations, an exceptional comment by a secretarial-level official.
Asiana’s apology advertisement also contributed to the calmness of the Chinese. On July 12, Asiana expressed its grief and condolences and pledged to do its best to handle the situation in more than 20 Chinese media outlets, including the People’s Daily. In response to Asiana’s campaign, Chinese media wrote that Chinese companies should learn from Asiana. CCTV commentator Liu Ge wrote that Asiana’s advertisement was based on a calculation to prevent expansion of the incident and not to lose potential customers in the Chinese market.
However, he asked whether any Chinese company behaves like Asiana. He pointed out that Chinese companies stand by the three-step resolution of an accident: Buy off government officials, cajole the victims and transfer the company’s responsibility.
Even if the advertisement was motivated by business, Chinese companies should learn from Asiana’s crisis management skills to make an apology, share the pain and get through the crisis. It is a windfall of sincere apology and condolence. Also, it is a warning that Koreans often forget the simplest fact that sincerity can win hearts in China as well.
*The writer is the Beijing bureau chief of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by CHOI HYUNG-KYU