No, Hu Didn’t Call for War
For The Diplomat, M. Taylor Fravel responds to an AFP article which translated a speech by Hu Jintao in which, according to their report, he was upping the rhetoric endorsing military conflict in the South China Sea. Fravel argues that Hu’s statement was mistranslated and was, in reality, just a boilerplate speech (See CDT’s post on the AFP article):
Did Hu urge war? No.
To start, a literal and more accurate translation of junshi douzheng would be “military struggle” or, simply, “warfare.” In the phrase “preparations for military struggle,” the term refers to the characteristics of future wars that China may have to fight and the implications for the development of operational doctrine and training. It’s similar to the concept of operational readiness. Nevertheless, it does not refer to a desire to go war, much less preparations for specific combat operations.
By using this phrase, Hu was highlighting the importance of continued naval modernization to ensure that the PLAN would be prepared to fight in conflicts in the future, a goal shared by all military organizations. The U.S. military, for example, uses similar language to describe its force development goals. The 2010 Quadrennial Defense Review described the objectives of America’s defense strategy as follows: “prevail in today’s wars, prevent and deter conflict, prepare to defeat adversaries and succeed in a wide range of contingencies, and preserve and enhance the All-Volunteer Force.”
More generally, the phrase “preparations for military struggle” is a standard, boilerplate formula used in Chinese military writings and speeches by Chinese leaders on military affairs. The phrase appears frequently in articles in the print edition of the Jiefangjun Bao, the PLA’s official newspaper (though, interestingly, its use has been decreasing since 2005).
In addition, the AFP report missed the broader context in which this routine phrase was used. In particular, Hu urged the PLAN to deepen preparations for military struggle within the broader context of “closely focusing on the main theme of national defense and army-building.”