According to a recent survey by Pew Research Center, some 79% of adults expressed an unfavorable opinion of China in 2020. That number rose to 82% in 2022.

I have been leading companies in both the U.S. and China since 2013 and believe this fear is misplaced, mostly due to our cultural and systematic differences. This gulf has deep roots going back to the 1940s, when the relationship between the U.S. and China experienced episodes of strain both economically and politically.

Although the road has been rocky, I’ve been able to facilitate and witness successful business collaboration between these two countries. I have hope that you can, too.

Why Does This Matter?

When it comes to partnering with China, there are lucrative opportunities for U.S. companies — especially when it comes to investments. However, misplaced assumptions have a sneaky way of blocking us from growth and opportunity. Without healthy U.S.-China relations, there is more potential for wasted resources, halts in progress, and friction and disunity on both sides. None of which anyone wants. So, let's take a step back and reflect on what business leaders in China are doing and how learning from their best practices could help American companies of all sizes.

What Can the U.S. Learn From China?

In 2021, the Kevin Xu Initiative collaborated on an article that was published in Science. It highlighted the desire to restore the U.S. public’s trust in the scientific community in order to create a united front capable of battling the global issues of our day, including climate change, public health crises, and the acceptance of new technology.

A Research!America poll showed that 72% of Americans cannot name any living scientists. Such a lack of interest or engagement tends to make people less likely to trust new scientific announcements and even disregard solid, well-researched evidence.

From my experience, I’ve noticed that Chinese civilians are more motivated and open-minded about science and the benefits this field can bring to the world of business. And I see this as the first benefit that international collaboration can bring — a greater understanding of how science can fit into the world of business.

To date, China has forged working scientific research relationships with over 160 regions and countries. It also belongs to more than 200 international organizations and multilateral frameworks. Finally, China has signed roughly 115 agreements related to intergovernmental scientific and technological cooperation.

The second beneficial lesson the U.S. can take home from China is buried in history books. I strongly encourage those who are interested to study Chinese history to see how China’s habit of learning from historical events and mistakes has helped society and businesses improve. Taking cues from the past can help U.S. companies prepare for the future with healthier expectations.

How Should We Collaborate Internationally?

Thanks to years in global business, I’ve identified three distinct ways to engage in successful international collaboration:

1. Keep individual and international diversity in mind.

When dealing with another country or nationality for the first time, it's important to remember that not everyone is the same. Consider American companies — almost no two are exactly alike.

Similarly, Chinese businesses have their own perspectives, values, and ways of doing things. Research a specific company’s background to understand how their business practices might differ from yours. Use that information to engage with them appropriately.

2. Find a mutual comfort zone to establish balance.

Before diving in and working with a cross-cultural businesses, it’s important to first identify boundaries and values. How are your values different? How are your business practices different? How can you prepare in advance to bring awareness of these differences to your team? Honoring the habits and comfort zones of both parties is the best way to establish a respectful relationship.

For example, America is a highly individualistic culture built on this idea that if you work hard enough on your own, you will achieve great things. On the other hand, Chinese culture places a high value on national and societal identity — as part of a whole. When Americans come into business meetings talking about themselves too much or focusing on an individual achievement, they can come across as prideful or selfish. Knowing these nuances in advance can help you navigate cross-cultural meetings well.

3. Create authentic trust to carry you through rocky times.

There is perhaps nothing more important in any business arena than developing trust. In this regard, be prepared to invest some time to earn the trust of each new international client or business.

A good example would be the relationship between Microsoft and Chinese businesses. A dedicated webpage on its site extolls the virtues of its relationship with China, saying in part: “Microsoft is committed to our Chinese customers and to enabling their success, supporting customers at the enterprise, city, provincial, and national levels. Microsoft also attaches great importance to its social responsibilities and has been active in giving back to the local communities in which it operates. This includes supporting education and training initiatives, promoting innovation and local economic development, and assisting in building a secure and open computing environment.”

In my experience, the more you know about the cultures you work with, the more beneficial your relationship will be. Take time to learn about what makes international businesses different than your own and experience stronger ties and business opportunities as a result.

Author's Bio: 

Kevin Xu is the CEO of MEBO International, a California- and Beijing-based intellectual property management company specializing in applied health systems. He also leads Skingenix and is a co-founder of the Human Heritage Project.