• Managing people

Business of Relationships in China

Despite current disagreements thousands of Western business people are engaged with Chinese enterprise: Joan Turley shows how they can succeed


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With the ongoing China-US trade dispute, uncertainty over China’s COVID lockdown policies, China’s refusal to condemn Putin’s war in Ukraine, and above all the harrowing reports to the Chinese treatment of the Uighur community in its Xinjiang region, now is a bad time to talk about doing business with China.

Yet for thousands of Western business people relationships with China and with Chinese employees, colleagues, suppliers, investors and customers goes on—and short of some monumental and tragic geopolitical rift, is likely to continue and expand in future.

As of March 31st 2022, there were 261 Chinese companies listed on U.S. stock exchanges with a total market capitalization of $1.4 trillion. China now owns £143bn in UK assets, from nuclear power to pubs and schools. Furthermore, a substantial number of multinational corporations operate in China, both Western and otherwise—KFC now sells more chicken in China than in the United States. GM, along with its Chinese partners, sells close to 3 million vehicles in China each year. With 20% of the world’s population, with its fast growing—if temporally stalled—economy, China will remain a prime destination for global business for decades ahead.

Were it not for the current inhibiting dampeners described above, Joan Turley’s insightful guide to building business relationships with China and the Chinese would be destined for the business bestseller list. For Western business people charged with creating business connections with Chinese companies, managing Chinese staff, or building business in China, her book The Business of Relationships: Creating Enterprise Success with China remains essential reading.

“Relationships that are solid, well made, and heavily invested in, are what it takes to gain trust and loyalty with Chinese businesspeople,” says Turley in her introduction and relationship building, maintaining and repairing are the core themes of the book—along with chapters on communication, negotiating for longevity, deal making, the dos and don’ts of China fluency and, in conclusion, creating mutual benefit and shared reputation.

Reputation and mutual benefit are the central currency of the Chinese business culture

As a rule, for Western companies deal-making to secure profitable, legally-bound, business arrangements is the primary goal—with shared mutual benefit seen as a secondary ‘nice-to-have’. Whereas in China, reputation and mutual benefit are, Turley suggests, “the central currency of the Chinese business culture.” Understanding and paying attention to this difference lies at the heart of why relationships, acting in good faith, integrity, and setting congruent goals and intentions are key to enterprise success in China and with Chinese people.

joan Turley

Turley's own reputation as an adviser working on behalf of corporates wanting a ′soft landing′ in China, is second to none. With many years of experience in China, using her language and negotiating skills and knowledge of the Chinese character, she has helped numerous companies sell their products, create joint ventures, put good supply chains in place and research new markets. As a favourite of officials in the North-East of China, she became the first Westerner to be offered an office in the iconic Fang Yuan Da Sha building. A joint venture followed with one of China’s leading media companies and partnerships with Chinese universities, where she used her previous experience of academia to lecture on the subject of the importance of inter-cultural skills.

While China-Western relationships may be in poor shape at the macro, governmental, level, many businesses continue to build relationships, and we can only hope this positive activity at corporate and individual level helps improve the bigger picture. With this hope, The Business of Relationships: Creating Enterprise Success with China is highly recommended.


‘The Business of Relationships: Creating Enterprise Success with China’, Joan Turley. Published by Business Expert Press, LLC, 2022. ISBN 978-1-63742-187-1

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