China Negotiation Pro Tip: Start Reading the Chinese People’s Daily. The news is fake, but the sentiment is real.
Takeaway: The People’s Daily and other Xinhua-driven official news outlets offer Western decision-makers valuable insights into 1) CCP official policy and 2) Street level sentiment of Chinese public.
As we enter a new period of increasing tension and trade barriers, individual decision-makers
will once again have to scramble for real, actionable news about China. I want to point you in an unexpected direction: the Xinhua News Agency / People’s Daily. By now we have all learned about the dangers of filter bubbles and echo chambers (at least that’s what my Facebook feed tells me), so I’m offering up a cheap & easy means of getting direct access to genuine CCP official views. Here are the links:
Why read ChiCom propaganda?
Because it is great starting point for monitoring the Chinese half of US-China relations – and pengyou, we’ve got some monitoring to do. Even if the Trump administration doesn’t completely blow up the US-China trade relationship on purpose, they’re almost certainly gonna dent it a few times by accident. And while the NY Times has done great investigative work, the international business press is notoriously off base when it comes to gauging Chinese man-on-the-street sentiment. Since Xinhua is one of the main architects of that sentiment, it’s worth a weekly scan.
Slick – but Bizarro
If you haven’t looked at in for a while, be prepared. The People’s Daily has become quite slick and modern with great production values. Beyond the familiar layout, however, you’ll see signs that the multiverse is a real thing. Headlines touting Alibaba as a crusading champion against fake brands sit comfortably next to “New Religious Regulations to Safeguard Society: expert” and “Top 20 Hottest Women in the World in 2014″ (???). And of course, there are the opinion pieces – which are much more professional than they used to be. Take a look at last week’s op-ed:” To be a strong advisor to Trump, Flynn will need to stand on the shoulders of giants” .
The value of Xinhua and People’s Daily is twofold:
1. These are the official Chinese Party views that it wants disseminated to the public.
2. It’s a reflection of mainstream Chinese popular sentiment towards the rest of the world (if this isn’t the way they feel now, it will be in 6 months)
The International Filter-Bubble
The Chinese people you know aren’t exactly playing you, but they are packaging (and editing) their message for you.
Imagine that tomorrow a Chinese businessman or investor travels to NYC and San Francisco. He’ll meet with 20 counter-parties that are part of his extended network – who will all seem knowledgeable and familiar with Chinese business, culture, and economics. After a week, he’ll return to Shanghai with the impression that America is a pretty OK place to do business. Is he correct? Sure, about those people in those places. But if that’s the extent of his research, he’s going to get blindsided by larger trends.
That’s you in China. If you spend all of your time in Shanghai or Shenzhen – or speak exclusively with people from those regions – then you have a perspective that is probably 90% accurate for 0.1% of China.
There was a time when that didn’t matter much, but now is not that time.
Old Hands used to talk about “counting coal cars”. In the pre-Deng Xiaoping days, analysts had no trustworthy data about Chinese economic activity, so they had to resort to counting the number of coal cars rolling into Beijing as a proxy for economic activity. Now we have the opposite problem. There is so much data coming out of China – much of it tailored for a specific viewpoint – that we walk away with bad conclusions. Break out of the bubble and scan the official sources. Fake news, but real sentiment.
Written by an American for Westerners negotiating in China, “The Fragile Bridge” dispenses with politically correct euphemisms and ivory tower pseudo-psychology. Knowing which 1,500 year-old philosopher uttered what esoteric phrase won’t help you safeguard your assets or keep your JV operating, but learning from the lessons of dozens of successful Westerners who have survived the China challenge just might.