14 September 2018

Lost in translation - what exactly did the two Koreas agree on?

Confusion has emerged over different English versions of Panmunjom Declaration submitted to UN.

The English version of the Panmunjom Declaration circulated to United Nations member countries is causing a controversy due to a critical phrase differing from the original text.

Two versions

The original text released by Cheong Wa Dae shortly after the first summit between South Korean Moon Jae-in and his North Korean counterpart Kim Jong-un on April 27 states that the two Koreas ‘agreed to actively pursue’ the end of the Korean War ‘during this year’ through trilateral meetings involving the two Koreas and the United States, or quadrilateral meetings involving the two Koreas, the US and China. However, in the version submitted to the UN the text states the two Koreas ‘agreed to declare the end of war this year.’ The South Korean government says it has no problem with the phrase. A foreign ministry official said the controversy was caused by a ‘misunderstanding’ in translation. An official stated, ‘under the April 27 declaration, the two Koreas agreed to declare the end of the war within this year,’ adding ‘the English version submitted to the U.N was wholly based on the original text endorsed by the two countries.’ The North's news agency, the Korean Central News Agency, wrote in its English edition, ‘the north and the south agreed to declare the end of war this year.’ The two Koreas jointly submitted the controversial version of the declaration to the UN yesterday.

Legal concern

Legal experts have raised the concern that the modified phrase, whether by accident or design, could negatively impact the diplomatic cooperation between South Korean and the US. Washington has a stated the principle of not declaring an end to the war unless North Korea takes concrete steps toward denuclearization. Professor Lee Sung-yoon, of the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University, told the Voice of America that the modification was ‘problematic.’  The modified phrase is identical to North Korea's English version of the declaration.