Panda Slugger – Soyoung Ho
From Washington Monthly:
In May 2002, ten months before he became president of China, Hu Jintao visited Donald Rumsfeld at the Pentagon. The meeting, as then-Vice President Hu saw it, had gone well. Routine U.S.-Chinese military-to-military contacts, which had been suspended since 2001 after a tense standoff over a damaged U.S. spy plane, were to be renewed. China’s Xinhua news agency quickly put out a headline announcing the thaw: “Chinese vice-president, U.S. defense secretary agree to resume military exchanges.”
But there was a problem. According to the Pentagon, no such consensus had been reached. Instead, the two sides had merely agreed that the possibility of such exchanges would be “revisited.”
The mix-up, as it turned out, had a likely explanation. According to The Far Eastern Economic Review, Rumsfeld, in a characteristic interdepartmental snub, had barred the State Department’s interpreter from the meeting. The man on whose language skills Rumsfeld had instead relied was not a professional interpreter but a Pentagon advisor and longtime Washington operator named Michael Pillsbury. With a proficiency (up to a point) in Mandarin, a doctorate in political science from Columbia University, and three decades of experience in dealing with the Chinese military, Pillsbury has emerged as a Defense Department favorite. That he may inadvertently have caused Hu to leave Washington with an overly conciliatory picture was also ironic: Pillsbury is one of Washington’s foremost China hawks, consistently warning that Beijing represents a more serious and rapidly growing military threat than other China experts believe.
For more on Michael Pillsbury, read a 2005 Wall Street Journal front page article. See also Daai Tou Laam’s post “Rummy’s China Counsel Is Ex-BCCI.” See also this article from the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists (link via Peking Duck) about how faulty translations may have contributed to the perception of a “China threat.”