For Chinese Business, the American Glass is 1/3 Empty

Western Managers can Benefit from China Media’s Negative Prop-spin

A recent China Daily headline seems to scream racism: “A Third of Americans Would Shun a Chinese brand.”  A few

Mainstream Chinese media is not always foreign-friendly
Mainstream Chinese media is not always foreign-friendly

lines down, readers’ worst fears are confirmed when 81% of Americans surveyed said Japanese brands were no problem.  But wait a minute – that’s only a 13% differential.  The China Daily could have gone a completely different way – proudly announcing that 68% of Americans were confident buying Chinese.   The article they published was slanted to make it seem that US consumers had a strong anti-Chinese bias.

The Chinese Party Line isn’t Anti-American – It’s Anti-Chinese

Westerners doing business in China have to get used to the Chinese self- image as victim of Western imperialism, hegemony and unfair treatment.  Kids in Chinese school are raised to see Europe, Japan and the US as conquering bullies and China as the righteous yet hapless victim.  They are taught that the Party has been the only source of strength or dignity for the Chinese People.

Go With the Negative Flow

Americans portrayed as evil invaders bent on China’s destruction definitely works against you when negotiating with Mainland distributors and bureaucrats in China.  But, as more and more Chinese businesses and middle class families look to establish footholds in the US and other Western destinations, savvy businessmen can make this deep-seated suspicion work to their advantage.  Suppress those politically-correct urges to comfort and connect – work the fear and turn your home-town connections into a marketable service .

Tips for Americans to Spin the Chinese Party Line

1.  Give in to the fear — their fear.  Instead of reassuring your Chinese partners, suppliers and distributors, play to their insecurity and fear.  They see the glass as 1/3 empty — don’t waste time and opportunity trying to convince them it is 2/3 full.  The worse your story about America, the more they’ll believe you – and the more they’ll think they need you.

2.   Expand partnerships.  Pre-2006, few Westerners ventured into China without a local partner.  Sure there were more legal restrictions in those days, but there were also plenty of structural barriers and culture gaps.  Westerners were told that they couldn’t function effectively without a local partner.  Chinese expanders are starting to hear the same story about their efforts in the US and Europe- so go with it.  Every negotiation about you entering the China market should include a few inquiries about their plans to expand abroad.

3. Use the force – of law, IP and copyright.  This is a good time to revisit your IP protection efforts in China — and take a look at what kind of IP breaches you’ve suffered in China.  As a pragmatic business person, you had to accept that there was nothing you could do about it there — but lots you can do here.  Don’t underestimate the power of a lawsuit in the US.  It’s annoying and an expensive inconvenience to you — but to Chinese businessmen it conjures up nightmarish images of Kafkaesque entanglements.  Huawei and Sinopec’s problems weren’t reported in Chinese as legal or national security issues — they were seen as concerted efforts to “contain China” through trade restrictions and anti-Chinese biases.  Your Chinese partners need you to help navigate the labyrinth of US regulations.

4.  Push the US as the land of brand opportunity.  As the Chinese economy goes through a rare period of contraction, savvy negotiators will turn the tables and talk about the strength of the US market relative to China’s stagnating private sector.  Another point of the China Daily article – and part of the mainstream Chinese message – is that Chinese brands have no presence or traction in the US.  Once you start talking to your existing partners about establishing their business in the US, insecurity about their brand is one of their buttons you will push.    If they don’t bring it up, you should.

5.  Play up the importance of powerful guanxi connections — in Main Street America .   The US has laws prohibiting closed bidding and anti-competitive behavior — but Chinese don’t believe in them.  They are being fed a steady diet of stories about rabid anti-Chinese bias in America — but at the same time are being encouraged to establish overseas business.  This is going to be a windfall for someone — why not you?

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