S. Korea President's office disputes translations of perceived hot mic insult

SEOUL - President Yoon Suk-yeol's office has disputed translations of remarks by the South Korean leader widely interpreted as an insult to the United States Congress, as he faced growing calls at home to apologise.

Mr Yoon was overheard insulting American lawmakers, after briefly meeting President Joe Biden in New York to discuss issues including US electric vehicle (EV) subsidies that South Korea wants to change. "What an embarrassment for Biden, if these idiots refuse to grant it in Congress," video broadcast on South Korean television showed Mr Yoon telling his foreign minister.

On Thursday, however, Mr Yoon's press secretary Kim Eun-hye denied that Mr Yoon had named "Biden", saying that the Korean word in question was "nallimyeon", or "blow-up".

Ms Kim further asserted that "congress" referred to the Korean National Assembly, not the US legislature. "I'd like to ask, what does a country mean to us? Interests of political factions should never come before national interests," Ms Kim said.

Mr Yoon has come under pressure at home to remedy provisions in the Inflation Reduction Act signed last month by Mr Biden, which includes tax credits of up to US$7,500 (S$10,600) for purchases of electric vehicles made in North America. That could disadvantage major South Korean brands such as Hyundai and Kia, which do not yet have operational EV plants in the US.

Foreign Affairs and Unification Committee member Lee Woon-wook has called for Mr Yoon to apologise and suggested that Parliament could issue its own apology if he would not.


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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 24, 2022, with the headline S. Korea President's office disputes translations of perceived hot mic insult. Subscribe