How can a president bungle ‘Good afternoon’?

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How can a president bungle ‘Good afternoon’?

The Blue House acknowledged Wednesday that President Moon Jae-in gave a greeting in the wrong language during a press conference with Malaysia’s prime minister last week, saying there was “a confusion.”

The admission came after a local daily, the Segye Ilbo, reported Tuesday night that Moon used the expression “Selamat sore” as he and Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad faced media cameras on March 13 to announce agreements made in their bilateral summit held earlier that day in Putrajaya, Malaysia.

Selamat sore is “Good afternoon” in Indonesian. Moon should have said “Selamat tengah hari,” which means good afternoon in Malay, or “Selamat petang,” which doubles as good afternoon and good evening.

Moon was in Malaysia on a state visit from March 12 to 14. He did not visit Indonesia last week during a seven-day Southeast Asia trip, which stops included Brunei, Malaysia and Cambodia in that order.

The Segye Ilbo called the fumble a “discourtesy” to Malaysia and quoted a local linguist as saying Moon lacked an understanding of the Malay language.

After the Segye Ilbo article was published and Blue House correspondents asked for an explanation, Ko Min-jung, deputy spokesperson for the Blue House, replied 12 hours later on Wednesday morning that the mistake was caused by a confusion.

In a text message to Blue House correspondents, Ko said she was responding late because she had to check with Korea’s mission in Malaysia, adding that an error was made in Moon’s remarks as he was trying to give a warm greeting in the language of the country he was visiting.

Without specifying who was to blame, Ko said the Blue House would make sure that such a mistake does not happen again, adding that the Malay government has not raised the issue.

Ko later explained to reporters during a press briefing that no one in the Blue House knew Malay and that the afternoon greeting was added in Moon’s speech while he was in Malaysia, implying it was not the Blue House’s fault that an Indonesian expression was slipped in.

Yonhap reported that Moon made another mistake in Malaysia on March 12 when he said, “Selamat malam” during congratulatory remarks at an exhibition on Korean culture and halal. Selamat malam means “Good night.” Moon was making his speech at around noon. Ko reportedly acknowledged that mistake as well.

Moon’s office breached diplomatic protocol last Friday as well when the Blue House uploaded a photo of the National Theater and Concert Hall in Taipei, the capital of Taiwan, on a backdrop for his Cambodia state visit. Cambodia was the final leg of Moon’s three-nation tour last week. The Blue House deleted the photo and explained the mistake was due to an error by the “image website” it referred to.

BY LEE SUNG-EUN [lee.sungeun@joongang.co.kr]

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