Once the Wordle mania wears off, online gamers who like elegant complexity might want to try Go. A search on the net would bring up Google’s language for coding on your screen, but I refer to an ancient strategy game called Weichi in China, his homeland, which I can’t figure out. When it comes to board games, my mind just might be clouded by an overdose of chess. My apology would be David Shenk’s The Immortal Game: How 32 Sculpted Pieces on a Board Illuminated Our Understanding of War, Science, and the Human Mind, a history of chess that opens with the story of its invention in India as a subtle ploy to convey grim news to a queen, before he invites us to marvel at a rubber eye of a victory won 170 years ago by knights after a daring sacrifice of the first order. In chess, the goal is clearly to checkmate a rival king. While Go is also laid out like a battlefield, which punishes heuristic bias, it sits on a 19×19 grid that differs vastly: its ranks have no hierarchy, movement options are an order of frightening grandeur, and one wins by besieging the opponent’s forces and spaces. It is both complex and confusing. Yet, to the extent that its cognitive cues shape Beijing’s worldview, understanding them could be key, if only to heed Sun Tzu’s age-old advice: Know your opponent.

From the perch China’s rise has given it, the whole Indo-Pacific may seem to be at stake today. Half the globe, that is to say a great theater of geopolitics which could potentially see world authority tilt towards the eastern United States within a few decades. Each hub sought by China to project its power beyond its own borders can be interpreted as a move of Go, which is best subjected to a triple test:

What could be circled?

What does he reveal about his game plan?

And what could thwart its purpose?

In the Far East, a Chinese network has surfaced around Taiwan, and wider threat signals have drawn Australia, the UK and the US into an Aukus pact that contemplates covert underwater patrols. In South Asia, New Delhi is on alert for any new grip Beijing is gaining on outlying countries, from Nepal and Myanmar to Sri Lanka and Pakistan, which could one day give it a “string of pearls” around the underworld. -continent. The Pacific kept “free and open”, as India, Japan, Australia and the United States have declared as a quadruple objective, such a brazen quest for hegemony by a “People’s Republic” determined to deny people’s freedom simply cannot be given a free pass. Whatever his grand design for Asia may be, it must be foiled.

In Go, a “freedom” is a space for maneuver, the other side of which must be denied. And like red herrings in chess, decoy rings can be deployed to masterful effect. A narrow focus on a small fixation, for example, could mean a mega squeeze escapes notice.

Backed by a naval boost, China’s outward push can be attributed with some confidence to lessons learned from its 19th century losses to Western traders in the Opium Wars. “Common prosperity” in the country, in this calculation, must go hand in hand with access to foreign markets; and an offer of the blue waters for control of the ocean routes, his mandarins may have felt, could win him great influence in shaping the rules of world trade. With America so wobbly on trade fundamentals, weak on oil buffers, and held back by the challenge from Russia (and its election fallout), that goal may well be closer than we think.

As far as cultural exports are concerned, Go is doing poorly in markets west of India. Shatranj’s reign as a strategy game may suit our national ego. But even a basic understanding of Go should serve as a warning against navel-gazing: focusing too close can easily turn into fixation that loses sight of the big picture.

Today, we face the risk of a settlement reset by an illiberal regime that bullies others, thrives on deprivations of liberty, and does everything possible to keep its citizens wrapped in a web of false consciousness.

In recent weeks, autocracy across the Himalayas has resisted what is called it, proposed a “global security initiative”, warned of the prospect of an “Asian NATO” and bristles at the kind of boycott its ally in Moscow faces. too late for a Chinese reversal “biding its time”. With its economy suffering from covid spasms, China cannot afford a major export blow.

One thing Go champions can’t be accused of is thinking small. China might be a weak player as far as we know, but it’s not worth betting on such a wild guess.

An even greater folly would be for India to turn inward. On opium lessons, frankly, we’re not doing as well; indeed, a zoomed-out view would reveal the sound and fury of our public life drawing us in, out of the way, and into the distraction of religious liberty (and its discontents). We live in a time of tension, fake news, and misjudged casus belli red lines. Any form of security myopia can be costly.

That a strategy game could have a calming effect wouldn’t have struck me, but the abandonment of Go did. Chess at least has the romance of dramatic reversals in the odds of victory. But then my Go-to guru, an alleged AI robot, spoiled it by sending me this: “One or more freedoms locked in a group is called an eye and a group with two eyes cannot be captured, even if he is gheraoed.” I guess it’s time to go figure it out. Once again.

Aresh Shirali is Editor-in-Chief, Mint Views

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