In this WSJ article, Chun Seong-whun (a former South Korean national-security official) is quoted saying

“Making compromises is a Western concept. North Korea has long exploited that.”

Is it true that making compromises is a Western concept? If so, what is an alternative method used to negotiate in non-Western countries?

Anecdotal evidence is interesting, but I'd be especially happy for additional resources to read and statistically relevant evidence, assuming it exists.

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    I think that Chun is engaged in intentional hyperbole. Compromise is universal (and well documented in non-Western societies). But there are indeed differences between cultures in negotiating styles (although the Korean negotiation style is closer to those of Americans than either the Japanese or Chinese styles of doing so, IMHO).
    – ohwilleke
    Jun 18, 2021 at 21:59
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    As I see it, it is not a difference in culture but in strategic situation. NK may feel they are fighting for their survival, which would cause them to be blunter. USA may feel that being seen as the aggressor may have repercusions in the international relationships (and superpowers tend to be conservative since they profit from the existing situations). NK only needs to keep China happy, and China does not need much internal public support. The USA diplomatic network is global and complex, and public opinion affect greatly its internal and external policies.
    – SJuan76
    Jun 19, 2021 at 0:03
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    @ohwilleke I also would expect compromise to be universal. I'm curious in how the negotiation strategies you mentioned might systematically differ across cultures - is there any "quantitative" evidence showing this? Jun 19, 2021 at 21:29
  • @SJuan76 Most things you stated seem plausible, but they also seem to mostly address the for large/small country/economy disparity and would be plausible regardless of the culture of those countries. I'd be interested if NK's response might be different than that of Western (or non-Eastern) countries due to their negotiating culture. My question would also be relevant for negotiations between China and US (both big) assuming that compromises are viewed differently in Chinese culture. Jun 19, 2021 at 21:33
  • NK is neither an equal to nor dominated by the US, and the county is itself an outlier among all nations. It is a poor starving economic basket case as well as being highly organized and motivated - the ratio of tech-ability to poverty must be the highest in the world. NK has strong Eastern/Confucian characteristics, but NK is not characteristic of the East. I don't think NK is the right place to base a conversation on East-West cultural differences on "compromise" (already SO vague and general) - it has to skew the results. Jun 21, 2021 at 1:21

2 Answers 2


Political compromise is an essential part of the Liberal worldview, since only in Liberalism do we find a broad enough variety of competing interests for compromise to be a practical necessity. Ancient systems of governance were based more on military power and tended towards pragmatism more than explicitly compromise: the government controlled what it could control, and accommodated what it couldn't.

The idea of compromise isn't exclusively Western: threads of it run through Confucianism and Daoism, for instance, which heavily influenced the political thought of ancient China. But authoritarians see compromise as a sign of weakness, and condemn and exploit it where and when they can. That's true whether we're talking about Chun Seong-whun or Mitch McConnell.


Not a complete answer, but during the Chu-Han contention in ancient China (203 BC), the kings of Chu and Han agreed to a peace treaty that divided China between the two. The treaty is called the Treaty of the Hong Canal. The treaty necessarily involved compromise, since both sides would prefer to eliminate the other.

The peace didn't last very long as Han attacked Chu before they were even able to withdraw to their country, but it's existence shows that compromise existed in non-Western countries even in ancient times.

Edit: since the comments indicate this is not a good example, here's another treaty in Chinese history: the Treaty of Shaoxing, between the Jin Dynasty and the Southern Song Dynasty. The treaty ended the war between the two countries. By their nature, such peace treaties always involve compromises.

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    So they invaded before the terms of the treaty was even completed? That sounds like a dirty trick, not a compromise. Not to mention your example is 2200 years old.
    – user2578
    Jun 19, 2021 at 20:31
  • I agree with @fredsbend, this doesn't appear to be a bona fide compromise accepted by both parties. Jun 19, 2021 at 21:36
  • @frеdsbend I don't understand you. So for one side it is a dirty trick. What about for the other? Are you claiming that the deceived party doesn't understand compromise?
    – Allure
    Jun 20, 2021 at 2:50
  • @holy_schmitt Same comment.
    – Allure
    Jun 20, 2021 at 2:50
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    @frеdsbend the question asks about the concept of compromises, so I consider "Do you suppose this event helped encourage later compromises" irrelevant, since it's already been shown that the concept exists.
    – Allure
    Jun 20, 2021 at 4:38

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