At a meeting in Beijing in December, Chinese president Hu Jintao had a powerful message for officials from the People’s Liberation Army Navy. “Prepare for war,” Hu said, using a Mandarin term — junshi douzheng — that means “conflict in general.”
Amplified and misrepresented by the foreign media, Hu’s words echoed across Asia and the Pacific Ocean, alarming observers in Japan, India and other nations and eliciting a cool response from the U.S. Navy. “Nobody’s looking for a scrap here,” Adm. John Kirby, a Pentagon spokesman, told AFP. “Certainly we wouldn’t begrudge any other nation the opportunity to develop naval forces.”
“Hu was highlighting the importance of continued naval modernization,” pointed out M. Taylor Fravel, a professor of security studies at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The Chinese president’s statement “does not refer to a desire to go war, much less preparations for specific combat operations,” Fravel said.
But the tizzy over Mandarin semantics belies a more serious issue. In a little less than a decade — about as long as it takes the U.S. to fund, build and commission a single aircraft carrier — the PLAN has evolved from a coastal defense force to the early stages of a blue-water navy worthy of concern.
As part of its 11th five-year military plan beginning in 2006, China has: commissioned dozens of new frigates, destroyers, submarines and amphibious ships; begun sea trials of the country’s first aircraft carrier, the former Soviet Varyag; deployed ships overseas for the first time in modern Chinese history; and developed a “carrier-killer” system that combines ocean-surveillance satellites, drones and maneuverable Anti-Ship Ballistic Missiles.