View from SE Asia

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I suggest you finish your week by listening to this short extract from last week‘s ABC Saturday Extra program which examines the relationship between the leaders and people of SE Asian countries and their largest trading partner, China. The interview covers so much interesting and relevant ground but, in particular, I was fascinated by the discussion about “living with hierarchy” which appears to come a lot more naturally to the leaders of SE Asian countries (who are often Chinese descendants themselves and are familiar with Asian culture) than it does to westerners.

Professor Tony Milner, International Director for Asialink, makes the point that “in terms of a rising power, my impression, which goes right back through history, is the tendency for them not to rally against the rising power, more to engage with that power and get what they can from it”. He goes on to say “it was interesting to watch Malaysian PM Mahathir when he was back in power for a couple of years. He expressed great respect for China, and was treated very well when he visited China. On the other hand, he was a really tough bargainer and managed to change contracts that had been put together by the chinese with his predecessor. So he combined tough negotiation with respect. Some chinese think we do it the other way around. We’re not tough enough on negotiations, and we’re not respectful.”

The interview goes on to cover many other interesting aspects of the complex relationships and challenges within the region but I think this point is important. Western political leaders and businesses will find it a lot easier to get what they want out of China if they negotiate harder and, at the same time, show more respect.

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