Part 1: Chinese checkers and GO

CANADA IS PLAYING a child’s game.

When it comes to China and international business, the rule of law, and the Asian giant’s internal politics, Canada likes to throw down its trump cards: quality canola & pork, for instance, food Chinese families rely on; affordable access for Chinese students at our best post-secondary institutes; respect for rule of law and human rights. 

Canada has history with China and ‘they owe us, eh’.

Remember Norman Bethune?

Oh– we see… hardly anyone does anymore.

Canada needs to change the channel on our relationship with China.

There’s a popular British drama Years & Years starring Emma Thompson telling it like it is about social justice, identity politics, the realpolitik of present-day UK.  Her character is all about business, and there’s a scene where she’s sitting on a current affairs TV panel in a town hall-like discussion hosted by a politically-correct moderator. When asked about her lack of empathy for the plight of the great unwashed and so forth by a member of the audience, Emma Thompson’s fictional character responds “I don’t give a fuck.” And the town hall audience watching her goes wild with approval.

And China’s foreign policy, of late, concerning Canada seems to echo Emma without letting go the f-bomb.

China has simply ignored Ottawa’s diplomacy, going on almost a year soon..

All the while Canada continues to play Chinese Checkers.

Doesn’t Ottawa know that Chinese Checkers was invented by a German?

We’re kidding, yes (but not about the German provenance).


We bet you played a hand or two of euchre or poker as a kid. You learned how to bluff, right? When to hold ’em and when to fold ’em. When to walk away.

Many in China grew up with a strategy board game called GO— where you place stones around your opponent to immobilize them; extremely subtle and relentless, the best players have the patience and single-minded intent to grind their opponent to a halt.

The mastery of GO is considered a big ‘thing’ in China.


Lately, Canada can’t seem to get past go with the Chinese government.

We don’t get why we’re getting gamed by China.

protracted-gameIn his 1969 book, The Protracted Game, Scott Boorman argued that the game of GO (Wei-chi, in Chinese) influenced Mao Tse Tung’s guerrilla warfare: 

  • Long-running campaigns 
  • Multiple frontiers of conflict (not focused battlefronts) 
  • Rapid shifts in territorial control.

Unlike chess, GO isn’t about pursuit of total victory through the capture of the opponent’s king. It’s more diffused.  It’s a strategy of encirclement:

Setting up spheres of influence. 

Laying down jigsaw puzzle pieces in patterns that only you can see.

Don’t concentrate too much power in one place. 

Sound familiar? It should. 

Right now, Canada’s relationship with China is playing out over multiple frontiers of conflict. It’s a huge mess with monstrous implications if we don’t up our game.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau wants to meet with China’s President Xi Jinping at the upcoming G20 meetings in Japan.

What shall it be? Chinese Checkers or GO?


That’s a big cultural question. We didn’t grow up playing GO. We can try to anticipate China’s moves. But it’s unlikely that we’ll ever master their game. 

We can be smart about how the game is played.

China’s game builds barriers around an opponent to immobilize them on multiple frontiers of strategic interest. Canada needs to up the ante on a multilateral playing platform (not easy when America’s Commander-in-Chief is obsessed with bilateral, one-on-one relationships). We need to be nimble and quicker on the draw.

If China’s game is long-term: we could forge beyond partisan policies on big questions such as Chinese foreign investment in Canada, Huawei & 5G, security in the Arctic—policies that survive our 4-year-election cycle.

If China’s game involves rapid shifts in territorial control: we can’t fully anticipate where the next issues will surface but we can be positioned with smart people who get China’s game. Right now in Canada, five percent of our population have Chinese ancestry. Let’s get these citizens involved. 


Canada is trying to deal itself in with China (and America) in an extremely high-stakes play for the future: there’s drama & grievances & revenge; there’s money to be made & lost; there’s the risk of overt racism & serious security issues.

We could turn all of this on its head by seeing this as an entirely different game. And redefining Canada’s role in it. 

See our next blog for details!

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