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CHINA’S WéiQí

Game that Unravels Dragon's Strategy to Dominate the World

A country, which started building a wall 300 years ago which is 21000 km long 20 ft wide and 20ft high and they kept on building it for 200 year, whatever that country says and does cannot be taken lightly.

China has been a crucial actor in international arena since at least 1950s.  Primary reason for global community to have been shuddered into re-evaluating China’s importance for the future of the international system was its levitation to a major economic powerhouse since the mid-1990s.

Phenomenal Rise

If Western world was overwhelmed with the feeling of widespread shock and anxiety due to the rise of China, it was not without any reason.  It was not so long ago that China was considered almost irrelevant to the functioning of the global networks of trade, finance, and production. 

It seems even more bewildering that despite this giant being a relative newcomer to the intensely competitive global economy, has attained a status of having “made in China” stamp on most of the toys, clothing and electronic equipment being sold world over.

Stock of China Moving Northwards

No one who has keenly observed post-Mao Zedong China would have missed its inexorable rise.  Mammoth expansion of investments abroad, the measured development of military power and the staggering growth of its economy are simply spellbinding.   Dragon’s GNP, has surpassed of both Germany and Japan, and now ranks above every country in the world except the United States.

It is quite an achievement that China has taken its place on the global stage without firing a single bullet (except on its own people). Its big-picture approach, the grand strategy resembles their classic board game, WéiQí(围棋).  China’s modus operandi has a great deal in common with canons of WéiQí, the world’s oldest and most sophisticated board game. There is no denying the fact that even the most complex board game could never replicate the complexities of geopolitics, but understanding this game may help one to develop insights into the dynamics of world politics.

Chess and WéiQíRelated image

WéiQí epitomizes Chinese strategy which is different from the US and western premise of grand strategy based on the game of chess.  In chess, there are 16 identified pieces of known capabilities with each side on a playing board with 64 squares. 

The contest is for total victory, through checkmate.  Translated into military strategy, chess identifies the adversary’s centre of gravity and seeks decisive point to eliminate the opponent through a series of head-on clashes.  Both the intent and capabilities of each side are on the table.

Tenets of the Fascinating Game

The game’s Chinese name translates roughly as “The Game of Encirclement,” though it is better known in the West by its Japanese name, “Go”. It is believed to have been invented 4,000 years ago and is now played by millions around the world.Played on a square grid with 19 intersecting points along each axis, WéiQí (pronounced Way-Chhi) involves two players taking turns placing white or black stones (all of equal value) on the grid. The objective is to encircle and capture enemy stones, overshadowing the board.  A single game can take an entire day to complete.

WéiQí has an expansive playing board with 361 squares.  Each player is given a total of 180 stones of equal capabilities.  Unlike chess, where a game starts with all the pieces fully displayed on the board, WéiQí starts with an empty board.  The players take turns placing stones at a point on the board, building up positions of strength while working to encircle and capture the opponent’s stones.

Analogy with Military Strategy

WéiQí’s guiding ethic is in consonance with the central theorems of The Art of War.  Multiple contests take place simultaneously in different portions of the board.  At the end of the game, the board is filled with an interlocked area of strength.  The margin of advantage at each point is small; only a WéiQí expert can assess victory through a multitude of contests.

In military terms, WéiQí is about strategic encirclement and demands enormous patience and single-mindedness of purpose through strategic flexibility to achieve objectives.  This strategic thinking is in consonance with Sun Tzu’s famous treatise on ‘The Art of War’, where the premium on victory is through psychological advantage and by avoidance of direct conflict. 

Strength, Weakness, Opportunities, and Threats (SWOT)

Chinese military theory and this game are both manifestations of the same philosophy. Sun Tzu’s The Art of War postulates that waging the war should be the last resort.  The preferred and superior approach is to convince the enemy, by whatever means, about own invincibility.  Any subsequent battlefield encounter thus becomes a mere solidification of results envisaged.

Cases in Point:

String of Pearls: This strategy is a clear reflection of their WéiQí game.  Their dominance in Gwadar port in Pakistan and acquiring the lease of Hambantota port for 99 years by getting Sri Lanka in debt trap exhibits dragon’s hegemonic ambitions.

Taiwan – Consider Taiwan, a chronic sore in Sino-American relations. China endeavors to capture Taiwan whole and intact.  It aspires to do so without resorting to force.  It has economic, military and diplomatic levers in its toolkit.  To obviate any Taiwanese attempt toward independence, Beijing in recent decades has encouraged trade and investment flows across the Strait of Taiwan (now worth tens of billions of dollars), kept missiles in readiness state on its eastern coast to target the island.  It also exhorted the American administration to oppose any unilateral move that would alter the status quo.

Doklam – The stand-off in Bhutan should be seen in the larger perspective of China’s strategy in the region was also seem to be following the tenets of its ancient game of ‘WéiQí’ an ‘encirclement game. This game aptly sums up their strategy and operational art.  The game advocates ‘multiple battles’ over a wide front, while concurrently ‘balancing the need to expand’ with the need to ‘build protective clusters’.The incidents of border incursion amply indicates China’s new found confidence and willingness to assert itself without any provocation perhaps to drive home the point that in Asia it is the lone dominant player. 

China seems to be blazing the trail on multiple fronts in the South China Sea (Nine Dash line claims), economic push in ASEAN, South Asia and Central Asia (BRI), and countering a ‘Rising India’.   It is keen to develop its ‘protective clusters’ to its soft under-belly in these regions, even as it attempts to expand beyond the ‘first island chain’ to its west.  As such, this stand-off in Bhutan seems to be orchestrated to show India as an undependable ally in the region, thereby pushing these small nations into its ‘protective cluster’ and facilitate in isolating India and the West. 

Viewpoint

WéiQí is a living reflection of Chinese culture – its strategy, thought, philosophy and operational tactics.   One can assimilate The Art of War and then play it on the board,” a virtual replica of the Earth. Sun Tzu’s key stratagems, the appropriate use of deception, flexibility and sudden, unpredictable moves gradually creating situations that best achieve political objectives have fundamental differences from the American paradigm of warfare.

In the Western tradition, there is a heavy emphasis on the use of force; the art of war is largely limited to the battlefields; and the way to fight is force on force.  The corresponding board-game metaphor is chess a zero-sum, kill-or-be-killed confrontation, premised on deploying overwhelming power to achieve total victory. Comparatively speaking Chess appears primitive compared to WéiQí. The game is so popular in Cuba that they have opened an academy to teach WéiQí.  The game enthusiasts vouch for it stating that this prepares one for challenges.  WéiQí very deservingly earns for itself the sobriquet “The Martial Art of the Mind’.

08 Jul 19/Monday                                                   Written by Naphisa

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