Lost in translation: U.S. amends 2+2 transcript, days after protest by MEA

Lost in translation: U.S. amends 2+2 transcript, days after protest by MEA

MEA had denied that Rajnath Singh had referred to ‘reckless aggression’ from China

Days after a protest by the Indian government, the U.S. State Department agreed to amend its version of Defence Minister Rajnath Singh’s comments at the “2+2” Indo-U.S. meeting on October 27. According to the original U.S. version, released by both the State Department and the US Department of Defense, Mr. Singh was quoted as saying that India is challenged by “reckless aggression on our northern borders”, in what appeared to be the first reference by an Indian official, in talks with another country, to what the government has so far maintained was a “bilateral issue” with China at the Line of Actual Control (LAC).

A similar controversy was seen in May this year, when U.S. President Trump claimed that he had spoken to Prime Minister Narendra Modi about the stand-off between the People’s Liberation Army and the Indian Army at the LAC, and that Mr. Modi was not “in a good mood” about it. The Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) had denied that any such conversation had taken place.

On this occasion, while the MEA and the Ministry of Defence had denied Mr. Singh had used the words on Tuesday itself, the U.S. government had refused to change its version, on the basis that the interpreter for the talks had been provided by the Indian side.

“The original U.S. transcript of the 2+2 opening statement was prepared from an audio recording of the Indian government interpreter’s English-language delivery to U.S. participants,” said a U.S. Embassy spokesperson.

The Hindu has verified that the audio of the interpreter does in fact support the U.S.’s claim. However, the audio also includes Mr. Rajnath Singh’s voice making a different statement in Hindi. From the audio, it appears that the interpreter realises the discrepancy between her version and that of the Defence Minister’s midway through the sentence, and is then silent for the rest of Mr. Singh’s statement.

“Excellencies! In today’s times the challenges we face make our partnership more important and our deciding our future. We both believe in a rules-based order and democracy,” Mr. Singh is heard saying in Hindi.

Officials dismissed speculation that Mr. Singh’s final statement had dropped the reference to China, while the interpreter had been given a previous version of the prepared remarks, and said that the publication of the wrong quote had been raised in both Delhi by the government and in Washington by the Indian Embassy. They added that the U.S. response had taken some time as both Mr. Pompeo and Mr. Esper had continued their travels through east Asia and west Asia respectively.

When asked about the controversy, MEA spokesperson Anurag Srivastava said that he “was surprised at the question as the video of the 2+2 opening statements is available”.

The MEA also strongly denied a news report that suggested that U.S. officials had told External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar and Mr. Singh that India’s “hesitation” on discussing China’s aggression internationally would “demoralise and hurt efforts to check Beijing’s expansionist agenda”.

Some former diplomats said that while the controversy over the difference in translation was unfortunate, the government should be bolder in discussing the threat from China on the global stage.

“We have been very sensitive to the so-called Chinese concerns, so it is about time that we call a spade a spade and name the aggressor, which is clearly China,” said former Ambassador and former MEA spokesperson Vishnu Prakash, who has served in China as well.

The U.S. State Department has now changed the wording to reflect the MEA version on its website, but in a sign that the issue hasn’t been completely resolved yet, the U.S. Department of Defense has retained its original wording, adding only the disclaimer that the comments were “as delivered by Indian government English-language interpreter”.

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