There is an interesting article behind the paywall at The Australian by Greg Rudd the brother of the former Prime Minister. As near as I can make out his argument, it seems to be that the more we engage with Asia, the more we will need to compromise our principles to fall in with the greater level of dishonesty that is, in his view, the framework in which business is conducted to our north. He describes a conversation he had had with a senior Chinese politician in what I can only describe as in a shockingly racist way:
‘You tend to see the good in people, Mr Rudd. People like you. You laugh a lot. But you’ll never make money in China with that attitude. You’ll only be taken advantage of. People will trade off you. They won’t pay you.’
He gave me another piece of advice I’ve always remembered. ‘No 1 rule of doing business in China; never trust a Chinaman.’
When I frowned and said I thought that was a bit harsh coming from a senior Chinese man talking about his own country, he looked at me as if I were stupid.
‘Why would you as a foreigner trust a Chinese businessman when we as Chinese don’t trust each other?’
What, however, interested me was the point Greg Rudd inadvertently made. Our prosperity to a significant extent depends on our honest dealings. Wherever it might come from, this inbuilt honesty is not a handicap. It is one of our major strengths. The cost of doing business is much lower in Australia because we expect others to fulfill their contracts and we shun and often prosecute anyone who does not behave honestly. Our public officials may be incompetent but they are seldom on the take. Others may think us naive but their disdain for our way of doing things is disdain for what makes this a rich country. And if dishonesty is rampant where they live, it is what will keep them poor. Rudd’s conclusion, though, is quite the reverse:
Taking the high ground now on too many issues will eventually lead to a stagnation of Australian living standards down the track. Our morality will strangle our economic growth. It’s just a matter of time.
It may well be a matter of time before business ethics becomes as corrupt as found in other countries, but when and if we descend to such depths, we will not be better for it, neither morally nor commercially. I can only say it’s a worry to find dishonesty promoted as an appropriate way to conduct business in Asia or anywhere else.