Asian cultures value relationships very highly and so it is very difficult to say ‘no’ to a friend. For this reason, negative sentiments are generally communicated indirectly so as not to embarrass those seeking assistance. This way, the original request can be politely withdrawn.
The Japanese are experts at this. The word ‘chigiomasu’ means ‘different’ in English and this is often used to indicate that the answer is not ‘yes’ because the circumstances for agreement would be different. For example:
Q. Will you participate in the Greek debt swap?
A: We would love to participate in a different way…
Angela Merkel yesterday encountered the Confucian way of saying ‘no’ in Beijing when she asked for China to contribute to the debt crisis. Premier Wen related that the question was “…currently a topic of research”. Merkel must have been gobsmacked by this one since she could hardly argue with the importance of research but, as any PhD knows (and she is one), research takes years and may never reach a conclusion. Wen went on to say that China is considering contributing more to the IMF, the EFSF and ESM – all very diplomatic but clearly tangential to the main game at the moment which is the Greek haircut that Europe wants China to accept.
The bottom line is that China said ‘NO’ to Merkel – this leaves a gaping hole (upwards of USD 15B) in the EU’s debt reduction plans for Greece. What is more, it makes obtaining a supermajority in any collective action vote very, very difficult.