China is widely recognized as a significant scientific partner for Western universities. Given that many Western universities are now operating in the Chinese context, this study investigates the everyday conversations in which international partnerships are collaboratively developed and implemented. In particular, it draws attention to the interpretations of the meanings attached to silence in these conversations, and how these can have unintended consequences for how these joint partnerships are accomplished. The findings come from an ethnographic case study that investigated collaboration within the context of setting up a Sino-Dutch research centre between the Delft University of Technology (TU Delft) and South China University of Technology (SCUT) as experienced by Dutch researchers in their interaction with their Chinese partners. The findings reveal that the Dutch researchers attached meaning to what was not said by the Chinese, interpreting it as lack of communication, resulting in judgements, uncontested trusts, and distancing that negatively influenced the achievement of common goals. Finally, the relevance of the findings is discussed for those managing communication in international academic partnerships.
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