SINGAPORE (June 25): The first artillery shots in US President Donald Trump’s trade war against China were fired as I was speaking at a conference in Hainan, where the Chinese speakers mounted a vigorous defence of free trade and the relationship between peace and the Belt and Road Initiative.

This trade war is about many things, but one feature will be largely ignored in the Western media. This trade war also involves face. Already, Trump is asking why Chinese tariffs are being applied in seemingly unrelated areas such as soybeans. The conclusion is that it is a strategy designed to make Trump’s rural support base suffer and that is correct in part. Tariffs applied in these areas are also crafted to make the US president lose face among his rural and industrial support base.

For those doing business in China in an increasingly difficult environment, it becomes even more important to understand the application of face in China. The concept of Chinese face is complex, and developing a better understanding of the concept is an essential part of doing business in China.

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