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How a Game Can Predict What the Chinese Will Do

The West has become so dependent on the Chinese economy that it's imperative to understand them. It turns out that a 2,000 year old board game that the Chinese play constantly (the way we play cards, chess or checkers) is the key to this understanding. Learning the ancient board game of wei qi (which means the "encirclement game" and is known in the US as Go, can teach Westerners how to understand Chinese world strategy, according to former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and Army War College professor David Lai.

In Go, a player concentrates on "surrounding" (rather than eliminating) an opponent,. The game emphasizes long-term planning over quick tactical advantage, and games can take hours. In the June 11-12th edition of the Wall Street Journal, Keith Johnson quotes Lai as saying, "Go is the perfect reflection of Chinese strategic thinking and their operational art."

Take Taiwan: To the Chinese leaders see it, Taiwan was a vulnerable piece that the US should have traded away for a better position elsewhere on the board, whereas we see it as a small bastion of democracy, which we have supported for over 60 years.. Or Korea: In the first days of the Korean War, President Truman sent US troops to South Korea and the US Navy to the Taiwan strait. In the Wall Street Journal, Johnson quotes Kissinger as saying that "in Chinese eyes," (he had) "placed two stones on the wei qi board, both of which menaced China with the dreaded encirclement," which is why China it had to confront the US directly.

The game can still be used to understand Chinese behavior today, such as their antipiracy efforts in the Indian Ocean in support of an international coalition. The West sees this cooperation as responsible behavior, but it is actually a strategy to gain influence in a new region. Johnson quotes a strategy paper published by the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party as saying, "China can make use of this situation to expand its military presence in Africa."

Johnson quotes Naval war expert James Holmes as saying that "we have to be extremely cautious about drawing a straight line from theory to the actions of real people in the real world." Holmes 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. As we try to understand China, are they becoming more like the West?

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Go is more complex than just encirclement. There are other goals than just capturing players in that claiming and keeping territory is how you win. Capturing stones is a secondary concern.

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