Translator's Error or Another Biden Gaffe?

Bae Sung-kyoo Bae Sung-kyoo

Washington is blaming an interpreter's error after reports here that gaffe-prone U.S. Vice President Joe Biden told President Park Geun-hye in Seoul on Friday that betting against the U.S. is a bad bet, or words to that effect.

The U.S. has spent the last two days trying to explain the gaffe, attesting to how sensitive the matter is for both sides.

Biden's exact words were, "It's never been a good bet to bet against America" and America would continue to place its bets on Korea.

The comment, distributed to the press, came across as a warning not to side with those who are opposed to America.

But when asked whether the comments were a veiled threat to Korea against siding with China, both Seoul and Washington frantically tried to quell the controversy by blaming the hapless interpreter.

Eight hours had passed since the original press release was distributed when the Foreign Ministry and the U.S. Embassy in Seoul issued fresh press releases on Friday night saying the interpretation of Biden's comments was "inaccurate."

On Saturday, Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se and the U.S. State Department stepped in. Yun told the National Assembly that Biden had made the same comments in a meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping and that the words were not aimed at "pressuring" Seoul. Yun glossed Biden's remarks as meaning that it would be wrong to bet that the U.S. will renege on its pledge to put the priority on Asia, and that the words were not at all aimed at Beijing. His comment was meant to illustrate the solid cooperation with Korea in many regional and global issues, he added.

Yun said the interpreter's error stemmed from a "misunderstanding of colloquial English." But it was the State Department that had brought the interpreter in the first place.

Misunderstandings and mistranslations can happen. But blaming everything on a mistranslation seems the wrong approach to remedying them.

By Bae Sung-kyoo from the Chosun Ilbo's News Desk / Dec. 09, 2013 13:13 KST