The ongoing trade war between US and China demonstrates strategic thinking about their policies that propagates relative power projection behavior of both great powers. As nature imitates art, and fictional characters imitate realities, the struggle for dominance between great powers imitates strategic thinking. Analogically, American power projection behavior is dominated by Chess like tactics and Chinese power projection behavior is based on ‘Go like strategies.’ Thus, both great powers have their own strategic perception about power projection behavior. On the strategic-board of the Asia Pacific Region, the US is playing chess tactics while China is playing Go game strategies. As chess is a tactical game, the US is strategically attacking and counter-attacking, containing and counter-containing in all spheres to attain leverage in order to maintain its hegemonic status in the Asia Pacific Region. There are five pieces part of the American chessboard in the Asia Pacific Region. The rooks of American chessboard are Japan and South Korea because of their respective powers and traditional alignment with US. The knights are Australia and India due to their strategic location. The bishops are New Zealand and the Philippines due to their conflicts with PRC. The queen is its huge naval presence and the pawns are its tactical maneuvers.
Historically, the tactical maneuvering of American on the global chessboard includes ideological alignment, entering alliances, propagating its national interests including the molding and integration of economic policies to its interests, regime change, destabilization of selected countries and the destabilization of the region in the process. The tenets of the American chessboard are attack, counter-attack, containment and counter-containment. Last but not the least, the ultimate goal in chess is to checkmate or capture the opponent’s king (PRC). It is pertinent to note here that the value of chess pieces changes with relative rise and decline. For instance, Japan has been the most important piece for US until PRC did not surpass it in terms of GDP. Now, India is becoming the most important piece for the US due to its rising power capabilities.
Historically, the tactical maneuvering of American on the global chessboard includes ideological alignment, entering alliances, propagating its national interests including the molding and integration of economic policies to its interests, regime change, destabilization of selected countries and the destabilization of the region in the process.
Conversely, the Go-board of China’s power projection is intended to acquire more territory in economic and political fields. As the Go game is a strategic game and all its pieces are considered equal at the start, the importance of its pieces increases with gradual progression. The important pieces of China’s Go-board are its economic influence through massive and rapid trade, acquisition of more territory across water bodies and land routes, modernization of its military and rapid production capacity to protect its physically and virtually claimed territory by limiting and stopping American pawns. The ultimate goal of China’s Go-board is to reach a position of relative advantage by acquiring more space in politics in general and economics in particular. The key difference between Chinese and Western strategic thinking is that China puts immense focus on strategy and stratagems which is why it is known as the birthplace of stratagems. Conversely, the West, particularly the US emphasizes more on overwhelming force and advanced capabilities.
Surprisingly, the Go game is a replica of China’s approach to war (competition) and diplomacy. This kind of art of war presents a dialectic nature of strategic thinking, for example strong vs. weak, less vs. more, offense vs. defense, predictable vs. unpredictable, indirect vs. direct, unity vs. division, resting vs. laboring, retreat vs. advance, near vs. far and relative vs. absolute. In reference, when one is capable, feign incapacity; when active, pretend inactivity; when near pretend far away and when far away, pretend that you are near. It also entails offering the enemy a bait to lure him, feigning disorder and striking him. When he concentrates, prepare against him and where stronger, avoid him. Further maneuvers include angering his general and confusing him, pretending inferiority and encouraging his arrogance, keeping him under stress and wearing him down, when he is united, dividing him and attacking when unprepared and sallying out when he does not expect you. This dialectic nature of strategic thinking is the sine qua non of the Go game.
Sun Tzu opines that strategic thinking of rulers must have farsightedness in terms of knowing how to exploit dangers, risks, benefits and advantages. Another aspect included in China’s strategic thinking considers politics, diplomacy, logistics and handling of immediate scenarios of integral parts of war. In simple words, western/American post-war strategic thinking focuses immensely on heavy use of force in order to get complete victory. Even the theoretical foundations of Thucydides, Machiavelli, Hobbes, Carl von Clausewitz, Baron Antoine-Henri de Jomini, Alfred Mahan, Brzezinski, Thomas Schelling and Henry Kissinger are predominantly filled by aforesaid tactics of chess.
In the Asia Pacific Region, the queen of American power projection is its huge naval presence. More than 60 per cent of US naval forces are deployed in the Pacific Ocean including the 7th fleet and three super carriers strike groups of USS Nimitz, US Ronald Reagan and USS Theodor Roosevelt in APR Area of Operation (AOO) which enhance the magnitude of naval power projection. The queen has a long traditional hegemonic presence and an important role in Asia Pacific Region with specific strategic moves. These strategic moves include increasing of more naval presence in the Pacific Ocean, realignment of American allies to regain strategic leverage, assertive behavior through new policies, controlling of maritime trade of Indo-Pacific region and containment of China’s naval expansion in this region.
For this, the US has drawn many strategies in the recent past like the Pivot to Asia Strategy or rebalancing strategy and Transpacific Partnership during President Obama’s tenure but has not been able to materialize these moves. Now under the Trump administration, the former Secretary of Defense James Mattis announced another strategic move of the American queen on the Pacific chessboard under the name of Indo-Pacific Strategy. Since May 2018, the US has changed the name of the Defense Department’s Pacific command to the Indo-Pacific Command which reflects new American multitudes of naval power projection to contain China. PRC has claimed the whole of South China Sea which is the most critical strategic area because of its unique location between the Indian and Pacific Oceans.
The ultimate goal of China’s Go-board is to reach a position of relative advantage by acquiring more space in politics in general and economics in particular.
In this scenario, the American rooks are standing with the opponent’s king (China). On the strategic chessboard of Asia Pacific Region, the American knights are Australia and India. Both these knights were also part of RCEP which again reflects that American pieces of APR chessboard are only securing their national interest regardless of who is the king of the game. Similarly, the bishops are New Zeeland and Philippines which also put their weight on the Chinese. An important note in this regard is that all the strategic moves of American pieces on the strategic chessboard of APR cannot be measured through one aspect but rather the overall behavior of these pieces which is aimed at economic progress and defense alliances.
Pursuit of national interests requires no permanent loyalties. For instance, Japan is the only country that was ruthlessly punished by American nuclear attacks but it did not only went into US camp against USSR but also remained the second country that supported the US led Liberal International Economic Order (LIEO). Another example in this regard is India which supported USSR and now is aligning itself with Chinese led initiatives like BRICS. Hence, the rooks, the knights and the bishops of American chessboard in APR are losing their longstanding commitment to US. Arguably, whenever a hegemonic power faces this kind of misalignment particularly from its former allies it projects more power in order to maintain its hegemonic status like the mighty king of the chess game. In chess, when king weakens its queen and loses its rooks, knights and bishops and pawns, strategic moves cannot be materialized.
Khaqan Ahmad has done M.Phil in International Relations from the National Defense University, Islamabad. His areas of expertise are Indo-Pacific region, Middle East, European Affairs, International Political economy, Foreign Policy of USA, China and Russia, Philosophy, Theories of IR and Artificial Intelligence. Currently, he is working as a Research Associate at the CSCR.