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Daily Telegraph: China’s rules of business lost in translation

Picture the scene: Tony Hayward, chief executive of BP, gets in a lift with yours truly and answers my opportunistic question about a takeover of Shell with an unambiguous “it’s very likely”. Just for good measure he adds that BP would probably have to pay £75bn to snap up its rival.

Rio Tinto would consider formal Chinese offer

A day or so after I report this conversation, causing a minor explosion in the share prices of both companies, Dr Hayward tells a rival newspaper “I did not say this. It is a fabrication of the media”.

If this sounds implausible, it’s because it won’t ever happen (and just to be absolutely clear, it didn’t happen. I made it up).

But replace BP with China’s biggest steel company Baosteel, Tony Hayward with Xu Lejiang, its chairman, and Shell with Rio Tinto and it is exactly what did happen earlier this week.

Li Qingyu, industry editor of the 21st Century Business Herald, must have thought all his Christmases had come at once when he struck journalistic gold in a Beijing elevator.

He was probably less chuffed two days later when he was accused of making it up in the pages of the more official Shanghai Securities News.

Dealing with China presents many cultural and linguistic challenges for British businesses. But this farcical breach of normal protocol shows that China plays by a different rulebook. As its tentacles reach deeper into our business backyard, we urgently need a translation. and its sister websites,,,,, and are all owned by John Donovan. There is also a Wikipedia article.

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