Translation Issues Between Presidents

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Chinese President Hu Jintao spent four days in America last week, meeting with US government officials and business leaders. Unfortunately, his visit was dogged by multiple translation issues.

First, both President Hu and President Obama held a joint press conference. Instead of having the questions from the press and the responses from the presidents translated simultaneously, the Chinese leader’s team preferred to have them translated consecutively. Technical issues with the consecutive translation led to President Hu believing that a question about China’s human rights record was directed solely at President Obama, when in fact the reporter wanted him to answer as well.

According to, when the next reported asked the question again and gave the impression that the Chinese president had avoided it on purpose, President Hu replied sternly:

“First, I would like to clarify, because of the technical translation and interpretation problem, I did not hear the question about the human rights. What I know was that he was asking a question directed at President Obama. As you raise this question, and I heard the question properly, certainly I’m in a position to answer that question.”

Then, before the Chinese president’s policy address in Washington, Muhtar Kent, the CEO of Coca-Cola, attempted to toast President Hu in his native language. Here’s how that went, according to Businessweek:

“In honor of this very historic moment, I would like to propose a toast to President Hu and also to his esteemed delegation — kanpai,” Kent said. His toast was followed immediately by laughter from the crowd, which included hundreds of China hands…”

Whoops! Turns out “kanpai” is the Japanese version of the toast. The Chinese version is “ganbei.”

Honestly, translation glitches like what occurred at the press release happen from time to time. Technical difficulties happen to the best of us! But I’m pretty sure the CEO of Coca-Cola has a smartphone. Couldn’t he have Googled the correct phrase ahead of time?