Chinese Negotiating Styles:
Japan’s Experience
Ambassador Kagechika Matano

Executive Summary: The rise of China as a political and economic power in East Asia is creating more opportunities for cross-cultural negotiations between China and various governments and outside organizations. As the frequency of these negotiations grows, however, some are wondering if China has a particular negotiating style and, if so, what lessons can be learned from this style. In September, 1998, the Asia-Pacific Center for Security Studies held a conference designed to study Chinese negotiating behavior in the context of case studies involving border and territorial disputes. The following speech, which was delivered at the conference by Ambassador Kagechika Matano, presents a Japanese perspective regarding Chinese negotiating behavior. Ambassador Matano argues that Chinese negotiating style can be viewed as having two major features: an emphasis on principles and a sense of pragmatism.



Mr. Chairman, Ladies and Gentlemen, my task now is to share with you some of Japan’s observations on Chinese negotiating styles. China is, and has always been, a very important neighbor for Japan. For the sake of lasting peace and friendship between Japan and China, settling problems through negotiations is essential. Across a strip of water in the western Pacific, separating Japan and China, we Japanese have come to gather a few impressions about our Chinese neighbor’s negotiating styles.


In discussing this subject, I would like to focus on two features. The first is the emphasis on principles. The second is the sense of pragmatism. First let me talk about the importance of principles. This was manifest in the negotiations for normalizing relations between Japan and China, which were concluded at the time of Prime Minister Tanaka’s visit to China in September 1972.

Prior to the official talks between the two governments, China put forth its position for the normalization of Japan-China relations at meetings with non-governmental delegations visiting China from Japan, such as a delegation of a non-government party, Komeito, which visited Beijing in July 1972. China’s position as presented in these meetings essentially boiled down to three principles, including the recognition of the Government of the People’s Republic of China as the sole legal Government of China. These three principles were commonly called “the three principles for the restoration of relations.”


These three principles as presented by China contained elements which the Japanese Government could not accept. In the official negotiations for normalization the two sides had to overcome serious difficulties, and after intense discussions, Japan and China agreed to the Joint Communique of September 1972. In relation to the Joint Communique, Japanese Government officials made statements to further clarify the Japanese position.

The Joint Communique of September 1972 became the basic framework of relations between Japan and China since the normalization of relations. As such, the two countries refer to this document whenever the two sides discuss the fundamentals of their relations.

With regard to Taiwan, the two sides agreed to state their positions in paragraph 3 of the Joint Communique of September 1972, which says “The Government of the People’s Republic of China reiterates that Taiwan is an inalienable part of the territory of the People’s Republic of China. The Government of Japan fully understands and respects this stand of the Government of the People’s Republic of China, and it firmly maintains its stand under Article 8 of the Potsdam Proclamation.” When China raises questions about Japan’s attitudes toward Taiwan, China refers to this Joint Communique. On our part, Japan has always reiterated its commitment to fully comply with the Joint Communique. Japan has also expressed its earnest hope for the peaceful solution of the problems concerning Taiwan by the talks between the parties on both sides of Taiwan Strait.

Recently the question of Taiwan was raised by China in connection with Japan-U.S. defense cooperation. Based on the Japan-U.S. Joint Declaration of April 1996, Japan and the United States conducted a review of the Guidelines for Japan-U.S. Defense Cooperation adopted in 1978, and new Guidelines were issued in September last year. In the new Guidelines, there is a section outlining the mode of cooperation between Japan and the United States in dealing with situations that may emerge in the areas surrounding Japan and which will have an important influence on Japan’s peace and security. The Guidelines make clear that the concept of regional contingencies is situational rather than geographic.


Regarding the new Guidelines, China expressed its concern over Taiwan and made statements that the question of Taiwan is an internal matter for China and Taiwan should not be included in the scope of Japan-U.S. defense cooperation. In response to such statements by China, Japan has reiterated the view that regional contingencies are situationally, not geographically, defined as stated in the Guidelines.

The Japan-China Joint Communique of 1972 includes a paragraph on the five principles of peaceful coexistence, which China began to promote from the mid-1950s as China’s basic framework for dealing with foreign countries. Chinese negotiators frequently refer to these principles, as for instance the principle of equality and mutual benefit, in discussing economic matters with Japan.

Following the normalization in 1972, the principles of anti-hegemony became a subject of hot debate in the negotiations for a Japan-China Treaty of Peace and Friendship. This became a difficult question since China insisted on including an anti-hegemony clause in the Treaty of Peace and Friendship, whereas the Soviet Union, another important neighbor for Japan, reacted strongly against such a clause. It was in 1978 when this question came to be settled. Japan and China agreed to add an article stating that the Treaty shall not affect the position of either party regarding its relations with third countries.

As I have discussed, the matter of principles occupies a central part of negotiations with China.


Importance of Principles

Now I would like to offer my analysis of why Chinese negotiators attach so much importance to the principles.

First, it shows the intention to put forward the essence of China’s position in negotiations. By laying down principles, China announces the basics of what China expects to accomplish in negotiations.

Second., once a principle is agreed upon through negotiations, it serves as the basis for future relations. China brings up those principles to promote its stand in ensuing years. For instance, the principle of anti-hegemony was such a case. Equality and mutual benefit have also frequently been emphasized.

Third, it is useful for securing internal accord within China. With its huge population, vast geographic expanse and diverse society, the principles serve to show the rallying points for the Chinese people.

Fourth, it is in keeping with the Chinese rhetorical tradition. There is a Chinese expression “Yi mu liao ran,” meaning “Just one glance, and it is so clear.” We Japanese use the same expression “Ichimoku ryozen,” meaning the same, using the same four Chinese ideographs. Expressing fundamentals in short phrases is deep in Chinese tradition.

At this stage, let me introduce to you my own experience in negotiating with the Chinese Government.

In 1989 when I was Director General of the Immigration Bureau of the Ministry of Justice, there took place one thing which surprised the Japanese nation.

In late May of that year a group of about 107 boat people landed on a small uninhabited island off the coast of Nagasaki prefecture in Southern Japan. They claimed to have come from Vietnam, and the Japanese government accommodated this group of people in the refugee center. In June two more groups arrived, and suddenly in August the number of boats arriving in the Japanese waters surged, and by the beginning of September a total of 18 groups numbering more than 2,100 persons arrived.


By this time my Bureau found out that in reality these people came from China, not from Vietnam.

Although they disguised themselves to be Vietnamese, they were either Chinese totally unrelated to Vietnam or those Chinese who were settled in China after leaving Vietnam. After these 18 groups, still a few hundred more people arrived in small boats.

We began our negotiations with the Chinese government for their repatriation to China. The Chinese government acknowledged their responsibility for repatriating the Chinese nationals who were unrelated to Vietnam. However they voiced doubts about those Chinese who were settled in China after leaving Vietnam, saying that those Chinese were refugees from Vietnam who sought asylum in China at the time of China-Vietnam conflict.

Here was a case where the matter of principle had the decisive significance. Japan consulted the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, and it was established that the country which offered the first asylum had the responsibility to look after the refugee. Once this principle was made clear, the Chinese government fully cooperated with us in repatriating these Chinese people from Japan.

I am glad to add that the Chinese official with whom I negotiated successfully in Tokyo on this matter then, Mr. Tang Jiaxuan, is now the Chinese Foreign Minister.


Sense of Pragmatism

Having discussed the importance of principles, I should now take up another important aspect of Chinese negotiating style: the sense of pragmatism.

Again let me refer to Japan’s negotiations with China for normalizing relations in 1972. As I reflect upon that page of history, I am struck by the wisdom of both Japanese and Chinese negotiators in accomplishing the difficult task of bringing the two sides together to the common ground to stand upon. I am impressed by the sense of pragmatism displayed by the Chinese side in settling those problems that Japan’s negotiators regarded as vitally important.


One example is shown in the first paragraph of the Japan-China Joint Communique of September 1972. Prior to the visit to Beijing by Prime Minister Tanaka, the Chinese side sent a message through an intermediary, Mr. Takeiri, Chairman of Komeito at the time, a non-governmental party, setting forth the Chinese proposal for the joint communique. The Chinese proposal included a paragraph stating that the state of war between Japan and the People’s Republic of China is terminated on the date upon which the joint communique is issued. From the standpoint of Japan, this was unacceptable. The Japanese government held that since the Peace Treaty Japan concluded with the Republic of China in 1952 legally took effect, it was impossible to agree to another document to terminate the state of war.

Through negotiations, the two sides came to agree to: (1) refer in the Preamble of the Communique to the aspiration of the peoples of the two countries for the termination of the state of war, and (2) state in paragraph one that the abnormal state of affairs that has hitherto existed between Japan and the People’s Republic of China is terminated on the date on which this Joint Communique is issued.

In this process, the sense of pragmatism to achieve a mutually acceptable solution was abundantly displayed.

Another case in point in this regard is the conclusion of a new Japan-China fisheries agreement. In 1975 a fisheries agreement between Japan and China was concluded. This 1975 Agreement has been the legal framework for fishing activities by the two countries. However, in 1996, both Japan and China joined the regime of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea and each established its Exclusive Economic Zone. This development made it necessary for Japan and China to make new arrangements for their fishing activities.


The new Fisheries Agreement, signed in November last year, provides for a set of measures in order to maintain stable relations between the two countries in the field of fisheries. The core of the new agreement is to enable the fishing activities of the two countries in each other’s Exclusive Economic Zone, provided that the coastal state exercises control over the other party’s fishing activities in its Exclusive Economic Zone. At the same time, in the areas where it is difficult to enable such mutual activities, an area for provisional measures under the joint control of the two countries will be established. In addition, in the area south of 27 degrees North Latitude, the existing system will be maintained.

This new Agreement reflects the willingness of both sides to take practical measures to maintain stable fisheries relations, when both sides are aware that it is difficult to agree quickly on a mutually acceptable demarcation of the Exclusive Economic Zones of the two countries. Through the negotiations for this new Fisheries Agreement, the sense of pragmatism was well displayed by the Chinese side.

From a Japanese perspective, it seems there is a political background behind the exercise of pragmatism. Namely, pragmatism is displayed amply when there is positive political will in the top leadership of China to conclude an accord with Japan.

Now I would like to make some observations on the methodology of Chinese negotiations.

First, the use of intermediaries is key. We have experienced a good number of cases where China sent to Japan its signals through intermediaries. These intermediaries were mostly members of the Japanese Parliament or business leaders who visited China. Those signals were useful for the Japanese government to see the direction in which the wind was blowing.

We saw those signals through intermediaries at a time when negotiations for the Treaty of Peace and Friendship were at a standstill in the mid 1970’s. More recently, when Japan’s official assistance programs were interrupted after the Tian’anmen square incident in 1989, signals were sent from China in the same manner, prompting the Japanese government to continue its economic cooperation.


This practice of using intermediaries is linked with the Chinese attitude of identifying those Japanese who China can regard as capable of working in harmony with China. We note that efforts are made by China to select from their standpoint the right people for the right purpose.

Second, the bureaucratic structure cannot be ignored. China today is a highly structured society where the Political Bureau of the Communist Party holds the ultimate power. Having negotiated with China, we have noted that Chinese delegates have to engage in as much or almost as much debating internally as with the Japanese delegates. Therefore, in order for a point to be accepted by the Chinese side, it is important that our presentation is formulated in such a way that it would reach the top strata of the Chinese decision-making machinery.

Third, the use of Chinese media must be understood. In enunciating Chinese viewpoints, China can mobilize its media. Depending on the situation, we also note different shades of tone in what Chinese media says as compared to official statements.

Fourth, the distance between the central government and local authorities must be kept in mind. There can be a time lag between the decisions of the central government in Beijing and the local authority which has jurisdiction over the subject matter of negotiation. At the time when I was engaged in negotiations for stopping the flow of illegal immigrants from China, it was necessary to speak to the local authorities of the region where illegal immigrants originated in parallel with speaking to the Beijing authority.

Fifth, China’s rich historical heritage provides its negotiators with a generous amount of versatility in dealing with foreign countries. China is capable of placing itself in a position to show its magnanimity as well as severity. At times its attitude is quite stern, and then it can become more conciliatory. This is versatility.


Ladies and Gentlemen, What I have stated is my brief analysis of Chinese negotiating style. Japan and China share a long history of relations which extends over two thousand years. Through so many years of contacts and exchanges, Japan has come to share many common cultural heritages with China. For instance, poems written by two outstanding poets of Tang Dynasty era, Li Bai and Du Fu, are today as much appreciated in Japan as in China. At the same time, we Japanese are aware that China is different from Japan in many ways, and it is important to know the difference.

Is China mysterious? This question was taken up in Dr. Kissinger’s conversation with Premier Chou Enlai. Mysterious or not, it is important to know the reality. By better understanding China, we can make our dialogue with China more meaningful.

Japan is resolved to secure and develop a lasting relationship of peace and friendship with China. To this end, peaceful negotiations to settle problems between the two countries are of vital importance.

Based on our experiences, we in Japan are most willing to promote dialogue with China and other like-minded nations to establish a truly peaceful and stable international community with China.

Thank you.


Ambassador Matano formerly served as Japan’s ambassador to Sweden, Latvia, and Vietnam. He also served as the Director General of the Immigration Bureau of the Ministry of Justice of Japan and later served as Commissioner of the Fair Trade Commission. These remarks were presented to the conference on “Asian Approaches to International Negotiations: Borders and Territories” held 8-10 September 1998. The conference was co-sponsored by the Asia-Pacific Center for Security Studies and the Atlantic Council of the United States.