Academic journal article Parameters

China's Strategic Moves and Counter-Moves

Academic journal article Parameters

China's Strategic Moves and Counter-Moves

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT: This article employs two analytical frameworks to put the tensions in the Asia-Pacific Region in a new perspective. One is the Go game analogy; the other is the US-China Power Transition, Stage II. These offer significant insights into US-China relations and Asia Pacific affairs, point out pitfalls in the complicated games in this region, and suggest thoughts for a "win-win" solution.


The Asia-Pacific Region has witnessed quite a few disconcerting US-China interactions of late. These acts range from close encounters involving military airplanes and warships in the South China Sea, contentious exchanges of verbal blows in regional forums, to China's heavy-handed approach toward its maritime neighbors, namely, Japan, the Philippines, and Vietnam, over their disputed territories. (1)

Why are so many contentious acts occuring in the Asia-Pacific? Has China become more assertive with its foreign policy? Why do China and the Asian nations turn their territorial disputes into flashpoints? Should Washington challenge Beijing directly on its territorial claims? Is the rebalance producing the intended results? How can we make sense of these baffling moves and counter-moves in the Asia-Pacific Region?

Many recent confrontations in the Asia-Pacific stem from a contentious, distrustful, and ill-advised US-China relationship. By all measures, this relationship is the defining factor in Pacific rim affairs. It conditions the policy calculations of all nations in the region. When this relationship is in trouble, the interactions in the region are doomed to be incongruous.

Two analytical frameworks shed light on these tensions. One is the game of Go; and the other, power-transition theory. The former puts current interactions in the Asia Pacific in a perspective not seen before, but yields significant new insights. The latter explains why the United States and China act the way they do toward each other. A synthesis of the two yields some insights into the future of US-China relations and Asia-Pacific security affairs.

Go, the Overarching Game in Asia Pacific

As everyone knows, nations play "games" in international affairs. It is common to characterize international interactions in these terms. For instance, the China-Japan conflict over the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands can be seen as a game of chicken with the two sides inciting each other to the brink. (2) China and Vietnam, however, "have been engaged in a strategic game of cat-and-mouse in the disputed area, resulting in Hanoi regularly issuing warnings to Beijing to remove [an oil] rig, only to have Beijing regularly chase away Hanoi's vessels." (3)

On a broader scale, one can view the US strategic rebalance toward the Asia as an American football offensive formation moving downfield, play by play. In another sense, the rebalance resembles a chess move, as in former National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski's terms, trying to prevent the emergence of a Eurasian challenger to US supremacy. (4) While there are different games at play, the game of Go offers a much more compelling account of the interactions in the Asia Pacific and opens up a new way of thinking about US-China relations and Asia-Pacific security relations.

What is Go?

Go is a Chinese invention. It is one of the world's oldest board games, yet arguably one of the most sophisticated and challenging. (5) It is played on a 19-by-19 grid. Two players take turns putting stones on the board in an effort to encircle space or territory. The one who secures more territory wins. Like many other games, Go is a ritualized substitute for war and human conflict. Like many such conflicts, Go is a struggle for territory. Placing stones on the board can be likened to troop engagements and other foreign policy instruments.

Unlike many games, Go starts with an empty board. This special design gives rise to three discernable stages of war: preparation, fighting, and conclusion. …

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