By Raymond Cohen
This Article Summary written by: Tanya Glaser, Conflict Research Consortium
Citation: "Symbolic Acts," Selection from: Raymond Cohen, Negotiating Across Cultures: Communication Obstacles in International Diplomacy, (Washington, D.C.: United States Institute of Peace Press, 1991), pp. 133.
Symbolic acts can play an important role in bringing negotiations to a close. In 1971 the U.S. was trying to persuade a reluctant Japan to revalue its currency in order to redress a significant balance-of-payments problem. U.S. negotiators demanded a 17-percent upward revaluation of the yen. The Japanese Finance Minister feigned illness and canceled his meeting with the American Secretary of the Treasury in order to avoid being forced into making concessions.
Treasury Secretary Connally met instead with Deputy Minister Kashiwagi. Kashiwagi stated that seventeen percent was an unacceptable figure. He explained that in 1932 a Finance Minister had been forced to commit suicide (actually, he had been assassinated) after agreeing to a seventeen percent revaluation. Connally promptly proposed a 16.9-percent revaluation, which Kashiwagi accepted. "By proposing a substantially insignificant but symbolically crucial concession, the U.S. Treasury secretary had saved the honor of his counterpart," and made it possible for the Japanese to agree.