This article critically evaluates the importance of negotiations and expansive discourse in framing apologies, especially in a political and diplomatic context. Focusing on two Sino-American issues, viz. the 1999 bombing at Belgrade Chinese and the 2001 airplane collision between a Chinese fighter jet and an American spy plane. …
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This study was based on off-the-record interviews conducted in late 2001 with four anonymous US State Department officials involved in public negotiations of the US apologies. The author’s aim in carrying out these interviews was threefold. Firstly, he wished to clarify the intricacies of international diplomatic apologies. Secondly, he intended to “probe” the opinions of official diplomats on such apologies. Finally, he aimed that this study would contribute to a greater understanding of diplomatic apologies and pragmatics involved therewith.
The author argues that most political apologies are framed in such a way that both nations’ real political goals are achieved. To carry out an act of apology, “the stage must be set by a process of negotiation and reconciliation” (Thompson 2005). Mirroring this idea, the author describes the kind of negotiations that take place before an official apology. Based on interviews, the author writes that America apologized to China in an “ambiguous” and careless manner and refrained from publicly accepting the incidents as its own fault. Such an apology was unacceptable to the Chinese. Furthermore, both countries took advantage of the linguistic gap between the two and manipulated the wordings of the apology to suit their own interests. Chinese officials reinterpreted the official US apology during translation to suit their own customs. 3. Critique and Evaluation This article is well written, although the author could have done away with a number of unconventional and difficult words. Though the topic is of a general nature and requires little technical knowledge, it is hard to understand and interpret the author’s ideas at first glance, as the language used is of utmost sophistication. A scientific article is successful only when a “large majority of the reading audience accurately perceives what the author had in mind” (Gopen and Swan 1990). To deal with the objectives at hand, the author builds up a strong background through literature review and by criticizing pragmatic models of apologizing. He successfully describes the elasticity of the official US apologies to China in various perspectives, and includes the US officials’ interpretations of these apologies. The author builds on his argument using the instance when America, in its official apology to China, said “we are sorry” instead of “we apologize”. The author states that in saying, “we are sorry”, there could be different intentions, which do not necessarily mean apologizing. He analyzes the letter from the US ambassador to the Chinese foreign minister in this context apart from criticizing other US discourses of apologies, and therefore, the evidence used by him is valid and relevant to the case in point. One possible limitation of this study is that it is largely based on interviews with four US officials, which may not be representative of the views of the US government. Moreover, the study would have presented a stronger case if interviews from Chinese officials were included, as this could show the Chinese stance on US apologies from their own perspective. The article contributes to the field of political and linguistic analysis and provides a cross-sectional view of the act of
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