China, Politics, & Board Games

It seems that China has a predilection with attracting attention; from the Great Wall that can be seen from space to the Forbidden city made from a hundred million bricks, the Middle Kingdom can grand stand like no other. However, while parts of the mainstream media seem quick to critique human-rights violations, pollution concerns, and the oft-obstinate “contrarian” politics of the country, it seems to avoid the proverbial elephant in the room: territorial acquisition.

In the past twenty years, China has went from an economically underdeveloped polity to an economic powerhouse overtaking Japan in trading power as of 2010. This rapid growth has come with many costs — namely resources.  With a staggering population of 1.3 billion and an emerging middle class craving Western luxuries such as beef and cars (upwards of 5000 new cars are bought per day), China is projected to need a second earth to sate its new found capitalistic hunger.

As of December 2013, that second “Earth” may have been found: the moon and the Jade Rabbit rover – named after the pet of China’s legendary moon goddess — has been sent to her. China may not be the first world power to land on the lunar surface, but such a landing is the most pertinent in decades. With the US scaling back its lunar missions, China seems eager to fill the void.  However, there are far greater implications that can be drawn from the Jade Rabbit’s landing than may meet the eye.

Thoughts of commercializing the moon for mining may seem most pressing, but as cyberspace expert John Sheldon notes, “What is interesting about Jade Rabbit is not so much the soft landing on the moon, but what it all implies. If you can land on the moon where you intended to land, that means in five years you are going to see far more accurate nuclear missiles…Countries look at space as a measure of power, and bound up in that is prestige”.  While futuristic saber-rattling may be a tad far-fetched at the moment, what can be said with certainty is that no frontier is out of the reach of China.

On a more terrestrial level, China has expanded its reach around the globe from a free-trade agreement signed with Switzerland and sizable investments of 10 billion in Argentina to the creation of a Kenya superhighway and production plans for “futuristic 21-storey tower” at Nairobi University.  The People’s Republic is positioning itself to reap manifold trade and resource benefits. China also has a well-established (and lucrative) relationship with several Middle Eastern countries, especially oil-titans like Iran and Saudi Arabia.

The economic rivalry between India and China in Africa is of note considering these giants are quick to capitalize on the West’s reluctance to build infrastructure in the region when opportunity arises. This is not to say China has kept all of its promises to its international partners or that China is viewed as an altruistic at all.  It is of no consequence, in fact, the Mayor of London Boris Johnson advocates a free trade agreement with the colossal country. Lastly, China now has the largest amount of US debt in history: $1.3167 trillion resources are critical for China making international trade and power-projection a must. China in Africa

One may ask at this point, “What does any of this have to do with board games?” International affairs often appear to be an elaborate interplay between high-minded rhetoric and circumspect action the likes of which that the layman could never grasp. However, this is not the case; politics is a game.  The venerable Winston Churchill famously attested, “Politics is not a game. It is an earnest business.”  However one must wonder if that Great PM knew of the East Asian game called Go, because if he did, he may have altered that statement.

Go (or weiqi as it is known in China) is the East Asian analogue to chess, utilizing a 19×19 board with the players placing small stones unto the board in an attempt to capture their opponent’s pieces. In this regard it sounds more-or-less exactly like chess but there is a crucial distinction:  the player is not focusing on capturing pieces [via surrounding opponents stones] but ultimately capturing as much territory as possible on the board.

If Chess represents short-term tactical ruses, then Go represents long-term strategic plans. If Chess is a hostile takeover of a company, then Go is a competition for the largest share of the market. If chess is the approximation of one battle, then Go simulates an entire war in one game. In effect, China is applying the logic of a 3000 year old board game that Confucius himself was attested to play to its modern geo-political policy and macroeconomic maneuvering.

If the world, and space it seems, was a game board then we would see that the Middle Kingdom – a state that stayed within its own borders for millennia – now has become economically imperialist and quite business savvy. Mark Twain once quipped, “History doesn’t repeat itself but it often rhymes” and it seems China is drawing from its board game’s ancient past to secure its realist future.

Onyx Contributor:  Jiang Jie Min
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