SAN FRANCISCO -- Anyone interested in investing in or doing business with Chinese companies should understand China’s fundamentally different corporate values, said Joshua Cooper Ramo, a keynote speaker at the Schwab Impact 2011 conference in San Francisco.

One key difference, said Ramo, a scholar and best-selling author, is that the Chinese often put the welfare of the community before that of the individual. This is largely so because the Communist Party continues to retain a firm grip on the country¹s leadership, Ramo told a crowd of close to 1,000 advisors.

As a result, the top-priority values of many Chinese corporations are not shareholder returns, Ramo said. Instead, their highest value is to build the nation.

“That will make them terrifying and challenging competitors,” Ramo predicted.

The rise of China is an economic phenomenon that, in speed and scale, is unprecedented in human history with unknown consequences for the U.S., he said. But what’s certain is there’s “a real opportunity for cooperation (between the U.S. and China),” Ramo said. “It’s in the process of bridging that divide (of the two cultural mindsets) that to some degree our own future will be determined.”