Got an email the other day from a China business consultant I know. The email (modified a bit so as not to hide information) follows:
A quick question/insight into the Chinese business mind. We are set to go to China next month with a client and I suggested we hire a professional translator to go with us, but the Chinese company on the other side “blew a gasket,” citing confidential business information and claiming we should not bring a translator because they have a close relationship with the government. I suggested that they find a translator they trust and that seems to have been ignored.
Why the absolute insistence that no translators be allowed? Doesn’t this beg the obvious question. This Chinese company is generally doing what we want them to do overall but we would like some clarity in our discussions and we certainly want more clarity in our correspondence.
They translate for us what they think we need. Just a bit frustrating.
Any curbside thoughts?
Yes. Many. Someone is definitely being played here and there are the following markers of this just in your short email:
- “Close relationship with the government.” This doesn’t have anything to do with your desire/need to have a translator and I am concerned this is their subtle way of threatening you. Seems they may be saying that if you do bring a translator, they will use their close relationship with the government to prevent your client from doing business in China.
- Of what are they afraid? Why don’t they want a translator? Honest and legitimate Chinese companies tend to want clarity; dishonest and illegitimate Chinese companies tend to want obfuscation. Our China lawyers oftentimes tell our clients this when it comes to drafting contracts and it applies with even greater measure when all you are seeking is to use a translator.
- It should be more than “a bit frustrating” that they translate for you only what theythink you need; it should scare the heck out of you.
I know I cannot turn back time, but what you really should have done was to have gone over there with someone to translate and then just introduce that person as someone there on behalf of the company. That person should not be Chinese and should not look Chinese and that person should never speak Chinese in the presence of the Chinese company. In other words, that person should be your stealth translator. It may be too late for you to pull that off, but that would have been my advice to you a few months ago. I can tell you story after story about the great stuff foreign companies doing business in China have been able to learn from stealth translators but I will save that for a later day.
What do you think?