by Raymond Cohen
Summary written by: Tanya Glaser, Conflict Research Consortium
Citation: "Setting Deadlines," Selection from: Raymond Cohen, Negotiating Across Cultures: Communication Obstacles in International Diplomacy, (Washington, D.C.: United States Institute of Peace Press, 1991), 147-149.
Setting deadlines which do not reflect strategic concerns can be detrimental to a negotiating party's interests. The China-U.S. normalization talks of 1978 illustrate how poorly chosen deadlines can work to the advantage of the opponent.
Both nations had reasons for wanting to speed negotiations. For the U.S., normalized relations with China would be of some help in upcoming SALT talks with the Soviet Union, in negotiations over the Panama Canal, and in the Israeli-Egyptian peace talks. China had much more pressing interests. Normalized relations with the U.S. would prevent the Soviets from intervening in China's planned attack on Vietnam. Given these interests, China had the more pressing need for a quick agreement. However, despite their greater need for normalization, "China successfully concealed its own sense of urgency while the U.S. acted as though it faced an immutable deadline."[p. 148] This gave China a negotiating advantage. In order to close negotiations quickly the U.S. dropped its demand that China renounce its claimed right to reclaim Taiwan by force.
As a result of the American's unwise insistence on a early deadline, China was able to use its normalized relations with the U.S. to defend against Soviet intervention in its planned attack on Vietnam. China was also able to use the Taiwan issue very effectively in later negotiations. By using it as a bargaining chip, China was able to gain substantial concessions on U.S. arms sales to Taiwan.