January 19th, 2011
11:45 AM ET

Letters to the President: #730 'Working the Chinese puzzle'

Tom Foreman | BIO
AC360° Correspondent

Reporter's Note: President Obama is meeting with the leader of China this week. I have never written to a foreign premier, but depending on how things go I may add him to my pen pal list. That would show him. Ha!

Dear Mr. President,

Years ago I was in contract talks with my employer at the time. I knew that this company liked my work and I had made no enemies, and yet their initial offer was, if not insulting, at least demoralizing. I ran into a trusted senior colleague in the hall in New York, a guy who had weathered many knuckle-dusting negotiations. “Who is your agent?” he asked.

I came from local news and thought of agents as the foppery of elites. I was making my own deal and I told him so. What happened next was like something from a gangster movie. He grabbed me by the arm, shoved me into an empty office, closed the door and got in my face.

“Listen, these people are not your friends,” he said. “They may like you. They may ask how your wife and kids are. But they pay their lawyers to get you to work for as little as possible. They will give you a good deal if you demand it, but if you let them they will also gut and skin you. They are sharks and you can not wade through those waters on your own. Get a professional on your side and listen to him.”

I did. The results were very positive. Not only was I happier, but ultimately my bosses were too. They respected me professionally for standing up to them and insisting on a fair deal.

That’s a little food for thought as you meet with Chinese President Hu Jintao. No matter what kind of diplomatic niceties you may both stand upon, the truth is China is a great competitor in the world market. Whether we are talking about currency manipulation, trade balances, military power or human rights, the Chinese have their opinion of what would be best and we have ours. While being polite and respectful of the ways of other cultures, we must also prove as tough as steel in standing up for what really matters to us.

You and your team are, in effect, negotiating our nation’s deal with China. It is a good time to surround your self with the best professionals we have on the subject, listen to them, and then negotiate like hell. Trust me the Chinese will be doing that.

I’m sure you will be too busy to call (uh…like you always are) but just in case, feel free. I’m around.


Follow Tom on Twitter @tomforemancnn.

Find more of the Foreman Letters here.

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