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Spelling Obama in Chinese not an easy task

US President Barack’s Obama first visit to China will undoubtedly be marked by difficult talks on trade and climate change, but another thorny issue has emerged: how to write “Obama” in Mandarin.

world Updated: Nov 17, 2009 00:45 IST

US President Barack’s Obama first visit to China will undoubtedly be marked by difficult talks on trade and climate change, but another thorny issue has emerged: how to write “Obama” in Mandarin.

While the Chinese have written “Aobama” since the US leader first emerged on the political scene, US officials want “Oubama” to be the new standard transcription, as the characters more closely match the English pronunciation.

The Olympic Games held here last year may have influenced the Chinese on the spelling issue, as the character “ao” — which means “mysterious” or “secret” — is also used in the expression for the Games, “Aolinpike”.

But in recent days, ahead of Obama’s arrival in China, the US embassy began using the phonetic transcription “Oubama” on its website — which is already used in Taiwan and Hong Kong.