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Negotiating with China

BREAKTHROUGH - Elfren S. Cruz (The Philippine Star) - August 7, 2016 - 12:00am

The time has now come to start the negotiations between the Philippines and China. But the Road to Beijing (or to Scarborough) will certainly not be as easy as winning in the Arbitration Tribunal.

President Duterte has named our initial negotiating team composed of former President Fidel Ramos, former Secretary Raffy Alunan and former ABC News Beijing Bureau head Chito Sta. Romana. Among the three, Chito Sta. Romana is the least known by the public.He is considered one of Southeast Asia’s foremost China experts. He retired and came home to the Philippines almost six years ago after spending almost four decades in China where he learned to read, write and speak fluent Mandarin; and, became familiar with the culture and politics of China.

Because China is a rising world power with a unique civilization of its own, there have been many recent writings on the topic of negotiating with China and the Chinese. For those negotiating with China or any other party with opposite views, it is well to remember the advice from an ancient Chinese philosopher-strategist, Sun Tzu (Art of War): “He who knows his enemy and himself well will not be defeated easily.”

There seems to be a consensus among China experts that Chinese negotiating style is rooted in its culture which is thousands of years old. Even the Communist ideology has not been able to  reshape the Chinese way of thinking and negotiating. There are certain facets of Chinese culture that continue to dominate the negotiation style of the Chinese.

First, the core value system of the average Chinese is still rooted in the traditional Chinese philosophies that are thousands of years old. Some of the manifestations that are apparent in Chinese negotiation styles are patience, a core Confucian principle; an orientation toward harmonious relationships, a fundamental concept of Taoism; and, survival instinct, an organic part of war stratagems.

Second, is the importance of remembering that both Confucius and Lao Tsu emphasized the importance of harmony and looking for a balance between two opposing forces – yin/yang. According to the ancient Chinese philosopher Lao Tsu the key to life was looking for “the way” between the two forces or the middle ground or the compromise. In fact, many Western scholars believe that Confucius and Lao Tsu were both less concerned about finding the truth and more concerned about finding” the way.”

According to Professor John Graham: “These moral values express themselves in the Chinese negotiating style. Chinese negotiators are more concerned with the means than the end, with the process more than the goal. The best compromises are derived only through the ritual back and forth of haggling. The process cannot be cut short. And a compromise allows the two sides to hold equally valid positions. While Americans tend to believe that the truth, as they see it, is worth arguing and even getting angry about, the Chinese believe that “the way” is hard to find and so rely on haggling to settle differences.”

Third, is the continuing importance, in Chinese culture, of guanxi which is described as a critical aspect of Confucian social philosophy which stresses the importance of associating oneself with others in a manner in order to maintain social and economic order. The emphasis is on implicit mutual obligations, reciprocity and trust which are the foundations of guanxi. This concept also requires the idea of a long term developing relationship between individuals.

Fourth, is the idea of holistic thinking. Chinese words are pictures rather than the sequences of letters or the alphabet. Western oriented children learn to read letters and numbers but Chinese children memorize thousands of pictorial characters. Professor Michael Bond has written about this and concludes that this makes Chinese thinking tends towards a more holistic processing of information. He says Chinese children are better at seeing the big picture, while American children have an easier time focusing on the details.

Westerners tend to break up complex negotiation tasks into a series of smaller issues. Chinese negotiators tend to talk about all issues at once and start asking a thousand questions. The common advice to those negotiating with Chinese is to be prepared to discuss all issues simultaneously and in an apparently haphazard way and to accept that nothing will be settled until everything is discussed and agreed.

Fifth, is understanding that in Chinese culture, mianzi or “face” or social capital defines a person’s place in his social network. It is the most important measure of social worth. A person’s reputation and social standing rest on “saving face.” It is closely related to the Filipino concept of hiya. Causing a Chinese negotiating party to lose mianzi is a disaster that could end the whole negotiating process.

Aside from understanding Chinese culture, it also critical to remember that the Philippines is negotiating with a China that is now a rising power. Hopefully, the Chinese people will remember what a great Chinese leader, Deng Xiaoping once said in a speech to the United Nations:

“ China is not a superpower nor will she ever seek to be one. What is a superpower? A superpower is an imperialist country which everywhere subjects other countries to its aggression, interference, control, subversion or plunder and strives for world hegemony.”

Creative writing classes

a.) Feature Writing Class for Adults with Jo-Ann Maglipon on Aug. 13 (1:30-5:30pm)

b.) Young Writers’ Hangout for Kids and Teens on Aug. 20 (1:30-3pm)

Classes at Fully Booked Bonifacio High Street. For registration and fee details text 0917-6240196 or email writethingsph@gmail.com.

Email: elfrencruz@gmail.com

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