What Kind of Game Is China Playing?

Whether its business or geopolitics, understanding mentality and culture  of the foreign counterparts is crucial to achieving tangible and mutually beneficial results.  Number of factors comprise what we often call cultural identity.  Games people play in their respective countries often shape their way of thinking and at the same time can act as superb guiding indicators to the way people of in foreign countries approach problems and negotiations.  Whether its Risk, Monopoly, Chess, Backgammon, Wei qi, Bridge, Poker or multitude of other board and card games, it is possible to analyze their effect on individual’s behavior and extrapolate certain common characteristics, which then can be effectively used in cross-border dealings.

Article below illustrates this concept using the example of the ancient wei qi (aka GO) game  and its effect on the thinking of the Chinese people.

Forget chess. To understand geopolitics in Taiwan or the Indian Ocean, U.S. strategists are learning from Go

By KEITH JOHNSON The Wall Street Journal June 11, 2011

A 2,000-year-old board game holds the key to understanding how the Chinese really think—and U.S. officials had better learn to play if they want to win the real competition.

That’s the pitch that David Lai, a professor at the Army War College, has been making in recent months to senior military officials in the U.S. and overseas. Learning the ancient board game of wei qi, known in the U.S. as Go, can teach non-Chinese how to see the geostrategic “board” the same way that Chinese leaders do, he says.

Wei qi, the game of “surrounding,” has long been popular in the East — known as Go in Japan and Baduk in Korea. Now, U.S. military officials are looking at the game in an attempt to understand how the Chinese really think. WSJ’s Christina Tsuei gets a lesson on the game from 35-year GO veteran Jean-Claude Chetrit.

The game, already well known in the days of Confucius and still wildly popular in Asia, is starkly different from chess, the classic Western game of strategy. The object of Go is to place stones on the open board, balancing the need to expand with the need to build protected clusters.

Go features multiple battles over a wide front, rather than a single decisive encounter. It emphasizes long-term planning over quick tactical advantage, and games can take hours. In Chinese, its name, wei qi (roughly pronounced “way-chee”), means the “encirclement game.”

“Go is the perfect reflection of Chinese strategic thinking and their operational art,” says Mr. Lai, who grew up watching his father—who was jobless during the turmoil of the Cultural Revolution—constantly play the game. A self-described midlevel Go player, Mr. Lai came to the U.S. about 30 years ago.

Mr. Lai’s best-known work about the nexus between Go and Chinese geopolitical strategy is a 2004 paper called “Learning From the Stones,” a reference to the 361 black and white stone pieces that eventually fill the 19-by-19 Go board. He described China’s long-term and indirect approach to acquiring influence. He also zeroed in on concrete geopolitical challenges such as Taiwan, which he described, in terms of Go, as a single isolated stone next to a huge mass of opposing pieces.

As Chinese leaders see it, he suggested, Taiwan was a vulnerable piece that the U.S. should want to trade away for a better position elsewhere on the board. The U.S., by contrast, sees Taiwan not as a bargaining chip but as a democratic ally that it has supported diplomatically and militarily for more than 60 years.

Mr. Lai’s paper caught the attention not only of his then-bosses at the Air Force’s Air University in Alabama but of former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, who quickly became a convert to his way of thinking.

Throughout his new book, “On China,” Mr. Kissinger uses wei qi to explain how Chinese leaders such as Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping managed crises during the Korean War, disputes over Taiwan, the Vietnam War, conflicts throughout Southeast Asia and with the Soviet Union, and the normalization of relations with the U.S.

In the first days of the Korean conflict, for example, President Harry Truman sent U.S. troops to South Korea and the U.S. Navy to the Taiwan strait. He had, “in Chinese eyes,” Mr. Kissinger writes, “placed two stones on the wei qi board, both of which menaced China with the dreaded encirclement.” Thus, despite being war-weary and impoverished, China felt the need to confront the U.S. directly.

The game can also be used to interpret recent Chinese behavior. Consider China’s participation in antipiracy efforts in the Indian Ocean—the first time that China has undertaken blue-water naval operations in support of an international coalition. The West tends to see such cooperation as responsible behavior on China’s part.

But a strategy paper published last December by the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party offers a different view: that antipiracy operations can help China to subtly gain a foothold in a vital region. “China can make use of this situation to expand its military presence in Africa,” the paper said.

Getty Images/Flickr RFWei qi (roughly pronounced ‘way-chee’) means the ‘encirclement game.’

One of Mr. Lai’s first fans was Air Force Gen. Steve Lorenz, formerly the head of Air University, where Mr. Lai then taught. Gen. Lorenz heard one of his lectures in late 2005 and summoned him for a full briefing about the insights that Go could offer.

“It really intrigued me,” recalls Gen. Lorenz, now retired. “He made a whole generation of airmen think about the world in a different way.”

In recent months, Mr. Lai has briefed officers at Pacific Command, the U.S. Air Force Global Strike Command, the Center for Army Analysis and the Australian Defence College.

U.S. defense officials regularly receive strategy briefings from outside experts, and the U.S. military regularly taps ancient classics such as Sun Tzu’s “The Art of War” and Xenophon’s “The March of the Ten Thousand” to help educate modern officers.

One officer at the U.S. Air Force Global Strike Command, where Mr. Lai gave a presentation at a commander’s conference in March to about three dozen officers, said “the game analogy really sparked fascination” and was useful for Air Force officers who might have to consider China a potential adversary one day. He conceded, though, that the briefing’s heavy academic content left “plenty of heads hurting.”

“You’ve got to think like the other guy thinks,” said the officer, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

Mr. Lai’s theories are not universally embraced by China experts. For starters, some say, comparing national strategic thought to popular sports and games is an over-simplification—and at any rate, the Chinese version of chess has lots of adherents in China, too.

Furthermore, despite the ancient roots of Chinese military thinkers such as Sun Tzu, it’s far from clear that Chinese leaders over the millennia, especially Communist Chinese leaders, have followed a single, broad strategy at all, let alone the one sketched by the board game.

“Go is a very useful device for analyzing Chinese strategy, but let’s not overdo it,” says James Holmes, an expert on Chinese strategy and professor at the Naval War College.

Though he agrees that Go helps to describe the strategic showdown between China and the U.S. in East Asia, he says that “we have to be extremely cautious about drawing a straight line from theory to the actions of real people in the real world.”

He notes that China’s “amateurish” diplomatic blunders in recent years, including bullying neighbors and trying to push other navies out of international waters, represent a departure from the patient, subtle tenets of Go.

Advertisements

About Alexander Gordin
An international merchant banking professional with over twenty years of business operating and advisory experience in the areas of export finance, international project finance, risk mitigation and cross-border business development. Clients include foreign governments, municipalities and state enterprises as well as Fortune 500 and small/medium enterprises. Strong entrepreneurial instincts, combined with leadership and strategic skills. Transactional and negotiations experience in over thirty five countries. Author of the highly acclaimed "Fluent in Foreign Business" book and creator of the "Fluent in OPIC", "Fluent in EXIM","Fluent In Foreign Franchising", "Fluent in FCPA",and "Fluent in USTDA" seminar/webinar series. Currently developing "Fluent In ......" seminars and publications. Co-author of the Fi3 Country Business Appeal Indices. Extensive international business development and project finance transaction experience in healthcare, aerospace, ICT, conventional and alternative energy infrastructure, distribution and hospitality industries. Experience managing international public and private corporations. Co-Founded three companies abroad. Strong Emerging and Frontier Market expertise. Published and featured in numerous publications including: The Wall Street Journal, Knowledge@Wharton, NBC.com, The Chicago Tribune, Industry Week, Industry Today, Business Finance, Wharton Magazine Blog, NY Enterprise Report, Success magazine, Kyiv Post and on a number of radio and television programs including: Voice of America, CNBC, CNNfn, and Bloomberg. Frequent speaker on strategy, cross-border finance and international business development. Executive MBA from the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania. B.S. in Management of Information Systems from the Polytechnic Institute of NYU. Specialties Strategic Management Advisory, Export Finance, International Project Finance & Risk Management, Cross-border Negotiations, Structured Finance transactions, Senior Government and Corporate officials liason

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Site Title

“Love recognizes no barriers. It jumps hurdles, leaps fences, penetrates walls to arrive at its destination full of hope.” — Maya Angelou

Museum of International Trade & Merchant Banking (MoMBIT)

chronicling the importance of international trade and merchant banking in the global development

STEMpi

Modeling for Success

Fluent In Foreign Business

Helping To Grow Your Business Abroad

Emerging Market Insights

How to make a killing in Emerging Markets without losing your shirt?

Ideas That Work @ GIDASPOV.COM

Strategy | Creativity | Innovation | Fundraising | Marketing

Nu Leadership Revolution Blog

“Helping Emerging Leaders Gain the Competitive Advantage in the Future"

Mike Z's Blog

Exploring the causes of cancer throughout the world

Bucket List Publications

Indulge- Travel, Adventure, & New Experiences

FranchisEssentials

Sharing Information, Insight and Perspective about Franchising

bizrisk.wordpress.com/

We Help Insurance Agencies Stand Out

The WordPress.com Blog

The latest news on WordPress.com and the WordPress community.

%d bloggers like this: