Gift giving is normal across Asia but handing over cash isn’t, which is what makes the Sam Dastyari case so strange

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Gift giving is normal in business across Asia, and especially so in China, but cash or reimbursing expenses isn’t.

I spent more than a decade moving across Asia for business development meetings with companies and semi government authorities. It’s all about developing a relationship and it’s a two-way game.

There were gifts aplenty, usually small and of little commercial value. But no-one paid for, nor offered to pay, travel expenses after the fact.

Some companies would pay the local hotel bills of visitors on the understanding that this would be reciprocated when roles were reversed.

This was usually for a regional industry body meeting. The host company would pick up the hotel bill for all. And the next host company, in a different country, would pay the next round.

This didn’t happened to me but I did gather a small mountain of gifts, the most valuable being a pair of binoculars but mostly inexpensive gits of the cultural kind such as packets of tea from China or puppets from Indonesia.

Sending a bill, with after the fact expenses, to someone you are visiting is unusual. Labor senator Sam Dastyari is facing major political pressure after a Chinese education business with close links to the Communist government paid a $1,670.82 expenses bill.

Hans Hendrischke, who has been travelling to and from China for more than 40 years, is used to carrying round gifts.

“It is part of a networking culture that is maintained by gifts,” says Hendrischke, who is professor of Chinese business and management at the University of Sydney.

“There’s no fixed ruled on the type of gift … they can be purely symbolic or they can be substantial in terms of things of value.

“The nature of the gift is controlled by different considerations. In China, with the anti corruption campaign, people would be careful to give any valuable gifts.

“It could be money and that is something you might find in families. Parts of families give money to another part of the family.

“But normally you get endless amounts of tea when you travel, a symbolic gesture that you want to maintain a relationship.”

He says it would be unusual to be reimbursed, by the person you are visiting, for expenses.

“I haven’t come across that,” he told Business Insider.

“I have been travelling to China for the past 40 years.”

Last month he took a MBA class to Shanghai to work with six Chinese companies.

He took six of each of the following as gifts: Australian organic red wine; Sydney University ties; Australian silk scarves; red leather note books.

“We also advised the MBA students to take small presents for their host companies, again several per company to cover different levels of hierarchy,” Hendrischke says.

“They took wine and other souvenirs. In return, we received large amount of tea leaves, handicraft items and other local souvenirs.”