To Deal With China First Learn to Play Go

Conversation Starter: Stan Grant wrote this interesting article on future relationships with China: “Despite what Joe Biden says, we’re not approaching a Cold War. China is not the Soviet Union, for one thing” The guts of his message is that: “China learnt well from Western powers. It has embraced multilateralism and global norms. The international order has underwritten China’s rise. Xi Jinping himself has presented China as a champion of globalization and multilateralism at the very time when America under Donald Trump was withdrawing from it.
The Rand Corporation think tank pointed out in a study in 2018 that there is nothing straightforward about China’s role in the world. China’s engagement with the global order, it says, is a “complex and contradictory work in progress. China sees “multilateral institutions as important, if not essential, for the achievement of its interests”.
This post provides a starting point for a conversation about dealing with China.
In the past I have been a player of both chess and Go. So I was interested when Stan said: “If the West sees global politics as a chess game, the Chinese see it as Wei-Qi, or Go. Former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger summed it up: “If chess is about the decisive battle, Wei-Qi is about the protracted campaign.
China wants to wear us down. As the rules of Wei-Qi point out, it is about “breaking the enemy’s resistance without fighting”. This concept is known as shi — creating a strategic advantage. Why would China overthrow an order when it can successfully work within it?”
Key points about chess: Chess uses a variety of pieces that are allowed to make different moves. The game starts with all the pieces on the board in the position prescribed by the rules. The players take turns at moving one piece with enemy pieces being “killed” when an opponent moves a piece to the place where an enemy piece is sitting. The game is won when the winner “kills” the opposing king.
WWI was something like a game of chess with the opponents in contact grinding each other down. The aim was to crush the enemy or convince them that they would be destroyed if they did not surrender.
Key points about Go: One of the players starts with black pebbles, the other white. At the start of the game there are no pebbles on the board. The players take turns to place pebbles on the board. Pebbles are not moved once placed. Pebbles/groups of pebbles are lost and removed from the board when they are surrounded in a particular way by enemy pebbles. The game is won by controlling most of the board. In many cases the final killing off of a group of pebbles is deferred while other groups of pebbles are attacked.
At the start of games it is common for players to start by spreading their pebbles over the board instead of getting into direct conflict. Once these direct conflicts start players may increase their chance of winning direct conflicts by linking with pebbles located somewhere else on the board.
Signs of Go influencing Chinese strategies? Think Chinese:
• Investment and loans to Pacific Islands and other countries that increase Chinese influence?
• China’s belt and road initiative?
• Buying or setting up business in other countries that depend on sales to China and/or parts etc. produced in China.
Your thoughts?

24 thoughts on “To Deal With China First Learn to Play Go”

  1. John, very good question. I’m out of time tonight, but a small offering.

    I notice Stan Grant took a different view at first in Australia’s nuclear submarine deal hints at a showdown to come with China — but is the West ready for it?

    I suspect China is preparing for war and no-war. They would not be silly enough to start one, I suspect, because it would serve no-one. If it came to war, the US could not win, short of using nukes.

    The generals would know that, so what is Biden’s strategy, really?

    Kevin Rudd’s initial exhortation was to think the way the Chinese would think. The Go analogy seems good to me.

    Where does that leave us?

  2. The other thing about Go is that very few enemy pebbles are actually removed during the game. The aim in the localized conflicts is to get in a position where a linked group of enemies pebbles will be lost if the localized conflict continues. Wasting moves actually killing the group means that you will behind in other conflicts taking place on the board.

  3. Brian: I have heard it said that the US cannot afford to go to any extended war with China because the US armed forces depend on Chinese spare parts The same might be said for Aus.

  4. Brian: Australia’s new $100b submarine could be a waste of money

    The $100 billion bill faces inevitable, massive blowouts. The 20-year delivery date is optimistic, and likely too late. Now a top academic has dropped a bomb on Australia’s nuclear submarine dreams – labelling them dinosaurs of the deep.
    Subs … have only one big trick. They are stealthy. But if, in a conflict, a sub can be detected, it is dead,” states emeritus professor of complex systems science at the Australian National University Roger Bradbury.
    In a short essay published by Defence Connect, he lays out what this means for these immensely complex and costly machines.
    Bradbury says he and a team of analysts identified a raft of technological trends that may affect submarine warfare. The AI-assisted conclusion, he says, predicts the oceans will become “transparent” by the 2050s.
    “A transparent ocean will be the result of a coming integration of sensing systems not yet developed, and it is likely to come together, when it does, quickly,” he warns. “The submarine era will likely end with a bang, not a whimper.”
    Put simply: Their one big trick will no longer work.

    Ordering subs that will take yonks to arrive isn’t going to help our current problems with China. Add chances that tech will make them useless when they are built makes them seem like crazy horse stuff.

  5. John, the link looked as though it should work, but it didn’t. I re-inserted it and now it does.

    So it’s really a double dud. Looks good now, but useless.

    The politics of what has happened may be more important than the technology.

    On one level, as Paul Bongiorno says, Scott Morrison’s credibility torpedoed by the French and Christian Porter:

      The greatest collateral damage of AUKUS is to the Prime Minister’s personal credibility.

      It provided further evidence with this Prime Minister that what he says cannot be taken at face value and when it suits him, he will set out to deceive.

    At another level, it has made ‘normalising’ relations with China effectively impossible. There is no way they will lose face with us.

  6. Brian: “At another level, it has made ‘normalising’ relations with China effectively impossible. There is no way they will lose face with us.”
    The barley hit when China didn’t like what Morrison was saying about finding the source of covid alerted us to the problem of China using its trade to bully countries for saying things they didn’t like.
    If you think about the potential for China to manipulate trade for short term political reasons there are plenty of other things they could do to play games with some of the other stuff we export and things we have to import from China.
    What they did to Australia may have got others thinking. For example China has used free trade agreements to weaken the US and stop the US producing other essential things.

  7. John, apart from trade, there is the Quad, which met in Washington. There were two articles recently at The Conversation, which you probably saw:

    As I understand it, China sees the WTO as a Western concoction, and would like to have some Chinese rules. The truth is that if you are big enough, you can probably bend the rules.

    The authors point out that the Quad does not really have an economic equivalent of Belt and Road, but there is no doubt containing China is what they are up to.

  8. China’s reputation as a reliable supplier may be under threat due to a number of energy problemsChina’s energy crisis spreads to Beijing, impacts tech firms Apple and Tesla

    Experts say coal prices and the CCP’s emissions policy is driving the power shortages
    Beijing is scheduled to have power cuts in the lead up to Golden Week Holiday
    Apple and Tesla’s component manufacturers have also been impacted by the power problems

    The power problems have been slowing the supply chains of some of the world’s biggest tech firms.
    Eson, a key supplier of mechanical parts to Apple and Tesla, said last Sunday it had suspended its operation in Kunshan city, Jiangsu province, from September 26 to October 1 in response to the city’s industrial electricity rationing.
    Apple may face more issues due to the power shortage, as its printed circuit board supplier Unimicron and speaker parts supplier Concraft were also idle for at least a week.
    In Liaoning province, in north-east China, 23 people in a metal casting factory were hospitalised with gas poisoning due to malfunctioning ventilation caused by the power outage.
    Yang Li* runs an electronic components factory in Dongguan city in Guangdong province — one of the biggest manufacturing powerhouses in China.
    He is worried he could lose a third of orders he was set to manufacture, due to the country’s widespread power outages.
    Most of his clients are home appliance manufacturers and usually work around the clock.
    But with the recent power supply problems, Mr Yang said the production capacity had been reduced by one-third.

  9. My take on the organizations that I have had something to do with is that organizations that limit the amount of time that someone can be re-elected chairperson tend to be stronger than ones that allow someone to stay until they retire or are pushed out.
    In the healthier organizations people know that they have a limited time to achieve and work harder as a consequence. Time is not wasted trying to get rid of someone who has been there too long and the past leaders will be inclined to be supportive of the new leader. The organization
    In organizations that let leaders stay too long it is not unusual for someone to be an outstanding leader for a while then hunker down resisting change and driving out people who are perceived as a threat rather than potential leaders.
    Which brings us to Li Ping. A while after Mao China moved to a system where leaders held power for a limited amount of time. Problem now is that Li Ping acquired the power to end this limited stay system.
    My impression is that Li Ping did a good job for a while but the length of stay is becoming more of a problem. The barley ban may have been an overreaction by underlings who felt obliged to react against a perceived insult to China and Li Ping.
    The Barley ban didn’t get the desired result and seems to prompt action by a number of countries who are taking the China threat more seriously.

  10. Mark McGowan accuses eastern states of failing to appreciate China at WA event

    While political tensions between Beijing and Canberra were largely left aside, WA Premier Mark McGowan used an event with the state’s top Chinese diplomat to lament the eastern states’ failure to acknowledge China’s contribution to Australia’s economic success.
    Neither Mark McGowan nor Consul General Long Dingbin made mention of their nations’ ongoing trade war, the AUKUS deal and the nuclear submarines that come with it, or the fact Australian Federal Ministers cannot get their Chinese counterparts to pick up the phone.

    WA is very dependent on Chinese business.

  11. John, in response to this comment about supply lines, there was an interesting discussion by Phillip Adams with Professor Anna Nagurney of the University of Massachusetts on The great container shortage.

    A few years ago, China was making 2.8 million containers pa. This increased to 5 million pre-COVID. China is struggling to keep up with need and this is causing supply line issues on its own, apart from diverse problems in making stuff around the world.

    Last Wednesday I joined a Zoom talk given by the chief economist of Ord Minnett.

    He said that with restrictions on travel around the world and giant stimulus packages in major economies, there was masses of cash sloshing around, and governments spending like crazy. This exacerbated problems in manufacturing and supply lines.

    He said the listed companies were in good shape, haven’t been investing because of uncertainty, but were sitting on cash, ready to go when a new ‘COVID normal’ was reached.

    He also showed a graph which showed the Australia’s government expenditure boost, on comparable measures, had been similar to other countries. However, it was quite noticeable that Oz expenditure was flattening more than others.

    When Frydenberg says we can’t afford more expenditure to support people/companies hurt by COVID it is because he does not want to, not because he can’t afford it. So if you can’t afford a roof over your head, or put food on the table it’s because Frydenberg/Morrison and company either don’t care or think you don’t deserve it, or both.

  12. That is a great analogy, Brian. There is a lot of lunch and circumstance in the history though, but the Chinese have demonstrated the ability to think and behave adaptively. The Lima agreement of 1975
    Was a gift from the West for China, a gift that they did not squander. Just as Japan after WW2 scoured the Pacific and collected all of the scrap metal left behind by the war (I was in Port Moresby when this took place) with which to build their Industrial Rise, China after the 1975 Declaration scoured the world and bought up masses of redundant machinery, machinery obsoleted by automation that for the West was uneconomic because it required one person to be pulling levers to make it work, that China with its rapidly growing population could use to build a future.

    What happened in the following decades was a gift from China to the world in the huge flow of extremely low priced goods that had the effect of raising the living standard of the developed world. In your Go analogy you could well see a strategy forming as the “Gift” to the West was also a weapon. The gift was a double edged sword in that its side effects were that it allowed the concentration of huge wealth in the hands of a few, and it progressively displaced jobs for ordinary people in Western countries that benefitted from the cheap goods. And if a sword could have three edges the third was one of dependence, the West is addicted to Chinese cheap goods as the entire industrial and consumer goods marketing structure has changed with the expectation from the consumer end that goods should be cheap and from the management end that there should be huge profits from the access to Chinese manufactured goods.

    The West strategically has squandered the gift from China by not taxing the benefit and allowing the wealth accumulators to use their wealth to dominate the government of the many for the primary benefit of the few, as is now playing out very publicly in the US right now.

    There is, however, one stone left unplaced in this strategic “Go” (Global Order) and that is China’s massive ever more educated population and their desire to have the life that the West has had at the expense of their efforts and compressed discomfort. This ‘stone’, I argue, is Australia’s biggest strategic problem, and the Australian government has woken up to this too late.

  13. bilb2, I don’t know what to make of China. I understand that it is still classified as a ‘developing country’ and that it is up to them whether the continue to be classified as such. Developing country status puts them in line as receiving grants from rich countries, which gives the US the irrits.

    Geoff Raby has an interesting article in the AFR Xi Jinping wards off China-style populism. Raby was commenting on the round of edicts:

      Stigmatising conspicuous consumption, outing movie stars for tax avoidance, and targeting opinion leaders who flaunt extravagant lifestyles are all part of changing the public narrative about what it means to be loyal, patriotic Chinese. Of course, it all serves the interests of the party, which remains the final arbiter of norms.

      Restricting time that young people can spend playing games or condemning “sissy” media personalities are more extreme aspects of the new policy.

    They have also been cracking down on high-profile rich technology tycoons and private education providers.

    Raby says that when Deng went to the US in 1979, the cost of the trip almost broke the country. He says:

      Deng’s simple policy prescriptions settled political arguments at the centre and energised a nation, which changed the world as China grew rich.

    Now, he says,

      The door has now closed on 30 years of Deng Xiaoping’s reform and opening policies. Xi Jinping’s “common prosperity” is the new policy orthodoxy.

    Xi is emphasising equality and now more and more dresses in the Mao look:

    He reckons:

      The origins of Xi’s doctrine of “common prosperity”, with its emphasis on a more egalitarian distribution of income, go back to the 19th party congress in October 2017. Then Xi Jinping Thought was inscribed into the party’s constitution. It was “socialism with Chinese characteristics for the new era”.

      Common prosperity is the policy platform that Xi will take into the all-important 20th party congress in October 2022, when he will be returned for a third lustrum.

      A researcher in one of the State Council’s think tanks explained to me that the doctrine of common prosperity is based on a view among the leadership that globalisation is in retreat around the world.

      The leadership has seen that globalisation has become associated with rising income inequality, including in China, and it sees populist reactions against it that have disturbed elite politics from London to Washington and just about everywhere else in between. It fears the same in China.

    Socialism with Chinese characteristics.

    The Ords Minnett economist I mentioned said that he believed there would be less emphasis on economic growth in China’s thinking. He mentioned their demographic problem, with ageing from the one child policy. Raby says it’s now a three-child policy.

    I did hear today that China’s investment in the Pacific island countries had dropped by a third.

    Raby suggests obliquely (he lives there) that China owes us an explanation on how it wants to be in the world. Can’t blame them for rejecting the Western model.

  14. Raby’s latest piece is China’s trade bid a chance to mend fences.

      China has announced that it seeks to join the Comprehensive and Progressive Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) formerly the TPP, or the TPP11, following the Trump administration’s withdrawal.

    He says:

      Beijing has calculated that domestic politics in the US will prevail over foreign policy considerations and prevent the Biden administration from rejoining the TPP. In effect, the US has withdrawn from international rule-making in the area of trade, leaving the field to others, including China.

    Raby says China has shown it wants to settle with Canada, and could do so with Australia if our government played its cards well in the process of gaining entry to the CPTPP.

    He says China strategically is more concerned about it’s land borders to the west, and has recently:

      formed a new group comprising Russia, Iran and Pakistan to work together on issues of common interest over Afghanistan and to support Afghanistan reconstruction. This will strengthen further China’s dominant influence over central Asia.
  15. This,

    “ The leadership has seen that globalisation has become associated with rising income inequality, including in China, and it sees populist reactions against it that have disturbed elite politics from London to Washington and just about everywhere else in between. It fears the same in China.”

    … is interesting. I might say something about the Evergreen situation. Beijing can turn off the money tap at any time to any organization. This may well be connected. What the world is seeing as a pending crisis, to Ping may just be an adjustment Pang.

  16. Bilb2: My recollection is that the big drive for free markets came from economists and American companies that thought it would make it easier to push American products upon countries that were blocking their products and import parts etc. at lower prices than they could get from American suppliers. It was sort of a revolution against the sort of post depression/WWII thinking that believed preserving jobs was much more important than benefitting from cheap imports.
    This change in thinking was good for countries like Japan and China but ended up being bad for businesses like steel manufacturing and the people who worked in these industries.
    Me I think that countries do need to have more control the flow of goods across their borders. Tariffs are a poor way of doing this but I do think that something like an import license trading system may work.
    Am I wrong in thinking you have never played much Go?

  17. John, if you want to go back to WW2 you need to go to the GATT (General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade) in 1947. The US pursued rules that suited their transnational manufacturing companies first, then also their service companies.

    That was followed by similar moves in Europe. The whole thing came together in 1995 with the formation of the WTO after the Uruguay Round. The WTO is the only supra-national body that makes ruling which the US has to accept.

    The workings of the WTO were an abomination, with what happened caucused in advance by ‘The Quod” – the US, the EU, japan and Canada – basically to screw the developing countries. Resistance by non-government bodies (Greenpeace etc) interrupted the Seattle meeting in 1999 entirely. Doha was chosen in 2001 because the protesters couldn’t get there, and with sympathy after the twin towers attacks, the Quod agenda prevailed.

    It all fell apart in Cancun in 2003, which I documented in a long-read post on Webdiary in Reaching for the Moon: how the poor lost and won at Cancun (amazingly still available).

    By this time the Quod was falling apart, because interests no longer aligned. Since then we have had bilateral and regional agreements, mostly prosecuted with rules that favour the big guys.

    Meanwhile enter China in 2001:

      The admission of China to the WTO was preceded by a lengthy process of negotiations and required significant changes to the Chinese economy.

    Trump naturally resented the WTO, but it was a major strategic mistake to remove the US from the CPTPP. nature abhors a vacuum, and if China fills it, you can be sure they will want to bend the rules to suit them.

    I’m not disagreeing with you, John, just providing some context.

  18. bilb2, I was genuinely surprised with the notion that Xi may be pursuing a version of true socialism.

    On Evergreen, the Ords Minnett guy said there wouldn’t be a direct rescue, but the Chinese government had various levers it could pull to avoid a crash. He was suggesting, I think, that the Chinese regime felt that there had to be consequences for bad management.

    He was also suggesting that they want to emphasise growth through the development of the service economy, so that the people do more stuff that gives the people satisfaction and personal growth, moving away from spending on hard infrastructure.

    So they will be needing less iron and energy from us.

  19. Taiwan is preparing for Chinese invasion, and whether the US fights alongside it will determine Australia’s fate

    When Taiwan’s foreign minister warns of a fight to the end in a looming war with China, we should pay attention.

    This is not sabre rattling, it is not fear mongering — it is the cool headed assessment of a man whose job is to ready the Taiwanese people for the worst.

    Joseph Wu says Taiwan is preparing for an invasion. There are few diplomatic options right now, as Xi Jinping says that he will go to war if necessary to bring Taiwan under his control.

    Taiwan is a fault line that could crack open the global geopolitical order. Xi Jinping has set his course: claiming Taiwan will assure his legacy. It is the big piece in his China Dream.

    Call it Xi’s gamble: That history is on his side and his big rival the US will do nothing to stop him. There is a big test looming: Will America fight alongside Taiwan? The answer to that question will determine Australia’s fate; a broader conflict would likely mean we would be at war, too.
    If only this were speculation. It has gone beyond that. Australia has boosted its defence spending and entered a new pact with old allies the US and UK to develop nuclear powered submarines to arm ourselves for the worst.

    We live in interesting times.

  20. China’s global diplomatic approach is shifting, and Australia would do well to pay attention to it

    Interesting one. Sounds like China is looking for ways to pull back from its piss everyone off strategy and people like Biden are interested in helping them.

    This has involved:

    • The engagement at presidential level between Xi and Joe Biden with promise of a virtual summit by the end of the year
    • the makings of a charm offensive in Beijing’s dealings with the European Union
    • an application to join the Comprehensive and Progressive Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) on top of joining the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP)
    • a “hostage exchange” enabling the release from detention of the daughter of one of China’s most powerful businessmen
    • an announcement that China would stop funding coal-fired power stations abroad. This comes ahead of the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26), where it is expected to play a leading role.

    In Canberra policymaking circles, dominated by a national security establishment wedded to seeing China as a threat, the above developments might be weighed.

  21. John, I had a go at your formatting. Hope you like it.

    I’ve added spaces between the paragraphs.

    The dot points are done with the li tag.

    Then indent the whole thing with the ul tag.

    Unfortunately li and ul are only available when you post and then edit. I usually type them in when I use them.

    On the substantive point, the ironic thing is that when China decided it wanted to do trade seriously they sent a bunch of apprentice trader to Australia to learn how to do it.

    It’s true China will piss other countries off, but they can afford to use Australia as a whipping boy as long as they like.

    Now the US has filled our beef export market to China.

    Michael Shoebridge, director of defence, strategy and national security at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, suggests we forget about China and find markets elsewhere. Depending on China is lazy and too risky.

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