Important to understand cultural factors in disputes

Last Saturday's article ("What the US and China are fighting over in South China Sea") is insightful.

The time has come for both China and the United States to try and resolve various contentious issues and compromise on Big Power politics, where possible.

On occasion, smaller countries, including claimant nations in the South China Sea dispute, such as the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei, are confused as to which nation they should align with - China or the US.

Both sides can provide benefits: China, for trade and investments; and the US for freedom of navigation, security and trade.

To complicate matters, contradictory comments have been made by a few Asean member countries and even by their leaders.

For instance, Cambodia is known to be pro-China, while Vietnam and the Philippines are for the US.

Parties in dispute should not only understand the political, economic and security implications of the row, but must also bear in mind cultural factors.

For instance, as a Confucian society, China will not accept a "loss of face".

It is important to have an understanding of cultural beliefs when conducting cross-cultural negotiations in politics as well as in business.

There never will be perfect solutions, only satisfactory ones, which must aim at peace and prosperity in the region.

Adrian Villanueva

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 06, 2016, with the headline 'Important to understand cultural factors in disputes'. Print Edition | Subscribe