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Negotiating online with Chinese counterparts (part 2 of 3)

by Andrew Hupert

Chinese negotiation often requires Americans to engage in long distance, online and email communication. These methods can work just fine – but the rules of distance negotiation are different from face-to-face communicating. How do you build relationships online? Let us finish the list of challenges westerners face when negotiating with Chinese counterparties online. Click here for Part 1.

6. IP theft Phishing, spoofing and other security breaches. By now we all know about the need for security and the dangers of hacking and intellectual property theft. Without pointing fingers or attacking anyone’s character, let us just say that savvy international businessmen are extra careful about their intellectual property and technology in China. Unfortunately, email and online platforms are the media through which networks get compromised. It does not matter how much you trust your direct counterparty – you have to worry about everyone else that he (or his network) share information with.

7. Tactics – Demand for information. Experienced western negotiators are wary of supplying Chinese prospects and partners with too much information. A tried & true Chinese tactic is to request detailed information and technical reports throughout the negotiating process. Sometimes it helps them develop a better understanding of your company, but too often it gives them the tools they need to reverse-engineer your product or have a local connection duplicate your service.

8. Balance of power shift & identity of true decision-maker. Another familiar Chinese negotiation tactic that is aided by online negotiation is the Balance of Power Shift. Chinese often enter a relationship in the subordinate position – looking to you for technical assistance, business know-how and marketing knowledge. Once they have gotten you to bridge the gap for them, they abruptly shift tack and become more demanding – or shut down the negotiation altogether. Email and online communication is the perfect channel for getting you to furnish them with reports, links and online resources.

9. Closing and implementation. One of the biggest differences between western and Chinese negotiation is that in the West, negotiations are supposed to end when the contract is signed – but in China the negotiation phase does not ever really end. It is even harder to establish a “hard close” online, without the help of context, non-verbal cues and body language. In China the negotiation never really ends – and on email the exchange of information can also continue forever if you are not careful.

10. Relationship building, face and guanxi. Americans find Chinese traditional customs to be challenging face-to-face, but the situation is even trickier online. A bad joke or misunderstood comment can be passed over in a business meeting, but online or via email it just hangs there forever – being parsed and reviewed by the entire organization. The simple act of requiring a Chinese counterpart to compose an email in English can be seen as an aggressive and selfish act. When dealing with Chinese partners or colleagues online, you have to be particularly careful that you are not imposing your standards, being insulting or acting more aggressively than you want to.

The best way to negotiate long distance is with a mix of face to face, phone, email – and even fax. Email can be less reliable in China (especially if your site is blocked or you are using Gmail), so it is a good idea to follow up each email with a text of phone call. You are also advised to open a WeChat account if you are going to do business in China – it is one of the most useful communication platforms available.

Andrew Hupert runs, an online platform that helps the international business community achieve greater success when doing business in China. He also writes He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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