PAXsims

Conflict simulation, peacebuilding, and development

Conducting a multi-week remote simulation: Reflections from the (simulated) Republic of China

The following report was prepared for PAXsims by Elizabeth Thomson, a MLitt candidate at St Andrews. Elizabeth is currently writing her dissertation On the Security Implications of Australia’s Discretionary Power as it Exists Between China and America’s Strategic Competition. She has a background in South-East Asian studies and Political Philosophy.  

For more detail on the simulation design, see this earlier post by by Felipe Cruvinel (St. Andrews).


Part I- Context

In the simulation, a shipwreck off the reefs of Pratas Island triggered territorial dispute between the People’ Republic of China (PRC) and the Republic of China (RoC, or Taiwan). Both governments wished to coordinate the search and rescue operations to maintain and assert authority over the territory in question. As the claims on sovereignty could shift Asia-Pacific politics and security the USA was interested in being an arbiter and equalizer to managing PRC and RoC relations. 

Three teams represented ‘active’ nations throughout the gameplay: PRC, RoC and USA. Each team of four players need to divide their team to fill specific roles (each team had a different number of players assigned each role to reflect the importance or dominance of that aspect within the different states): economic, executive, and military. Subsequently each position had its own debrief sheet of the role. In the RoC team, we distributed roles according to interest and background of the players. 

Part II- Bias

In this simulation I played the executive role for Taiwan, my objective was to achieve independence from the PRC. 

My team was comprised of individuals from Western (‘Global North’) nations.  I believe this impacted our play, as it was more ‘gung-ho’ in policy and policy execution than the current government in Taipei. We were more focused on achieving our objectives than considering long-term diplomatic relations with the PRC. This was possible due to the one-month timeframe of the simulation, and willingness to see ourselves as completely separate to mainland China. This attitude is culturally inaccurate,[1] as PRC and RoC both consider themselves Chinese. 

Furthermore, our team had a fair bit of leeway, which from a gaming perspective made the experience much more enjoyable as you will see in the following section. Yet, I wonder if we would have had the same scope of indulgence as a democratic state has. Whilst I know that the securitisation of situations can provide a sort of blank check to the government, I believe that we would have had to ultimately petition to the elected representatives in parliament for certain actions to be approved.  I have played simulations where actions were given a probability and Game Control would roll a pair of dice which dictated the success of a move.  A third-party factor to influence the game could have curbed some of the more ‘gung-ho’ actions, making the simulation more reflective of the state and its administrative structure. 

Part III- Play 

What was our policy? Our policy was to secure authority over the Pratas territory by sea, land, and air. What was our aim? Sovereignty. Sovereignty at all costs, for without sovereignty there is no survival.[2]

Throughout the simulation we reacted quickly to updates in order to control the narrative(s). To push back against the PRC’s enthusiastic attempts to collaborate in Search and Rescue missions, the RoC military established a Total Exclusion Zone (TEZ). This was made possible by negotiations with the USA to deploy minimal naval support. RoC and USA agreed that a physical reminder of the RoC-USA friendship was necessary to promote peaceful negotiations between PRC and RoC. 

Throughout the simulation the RoC was conscious of USA’s Taiwanese Relations Act 1979 (TRA79) Section 2b.1.[3]  We worked within the scope of this Act, negotiating USA military presence in RoC territorial waters to disincentives any PRC trespassing and subsequent occupation of RoC territory.

Additionally, while our military were engaged with securing the area, our economic representative engaged in Track II Diplomacy with the USA. They discussed a potential oil drilling partnership. This included converting some of our PRC imports/exports to the USA.   The economic department established a deal where the USA would compensate any loss of PRC. Additionally, the USA would provide infrastructure to drill and as compensation, they had claim to the first ‘x’ amount of dollars in oil, then the profits would be split evenly. In the event of PRC joining the oil deal, the percentages of cost of infrastructure would be reassessed and a deal would reflect individual contribution.

Yet, to avoid sharing profits and being coerced into a diplomatic relationship with the PRC, the RoC’s internal policy was to provoke the PRC into triggering the TRA79. Thus, creating ‘legitimate’ reasons to declare independence.

We [RoC] began by framing the PRC as the rogue government through phrasing such as ‘our mainland provinces…’. We devised initiatives such as a ‘National Democracy Day’ inviting the Dalai Lama as the recognised leader of Tibet to join. To place pressure on PRC resources and distract their concentration we attempted to open a second front. For this we sought a bilateral military training agreement with India to train in the Himalayan Mountains on the Tibetan border. 

Finally, Operation Oppenheimer[4], was crafted but not launched to reopen the nuclear facilities on Taiwan. RoC would have operated under the protection that they aren’t officially recognised by the United Nations[5]. By abusing a grey area concerning nuclear development programs, RoC hoped to initiate UN recognition. 

Part IV- Communications 

 The format of the game benefited not only the pandemic circumstances but contributed to the overall feel of the simulation.  Owing to the high-level security nature of the simulation it felt realistic to separate into our teams and negotiate strategy among members which could be communicated to the control in a ‘real time’, which is how governments would operate. 

Additionally, the freedom to negotiate between teams (sans The Control) allowed the players to benefit from track II diplomacy. This was beneficial as The Control, could exacerbate announcements much like the media discourses. Having another avenue to discuss hypotheticals and discuss terms made our progress towards a peaceful resolution possible.

Part V- Replay?

From an economic point of view, it could have been more challenging to face budgetary realities, such as a cap on the military spending on operations. The budget of each state could reflect the extent of the grey zone commitment each state was willing to be bound by. Additionally, it could have made the diplomacy much more creative within and between the teams. As the PRC objective to not fall into conflict meant that they chose to remain silent and ignored our (RoC) taunts which blatantly undermined the CCP. I am quite sure that Chairman Xi would have been more proactive towards our strategies. In addition to incorporating a dimension of chance, I believe that game would gain depth that could provoke the creative solutions to the regional context.  

Nevertheless, I would recommend the simulation as it provides an effective learning tool of the regional dynamic of the Asia-Pacific.  


References

[1] Hayton, B. 2020.Chapter 7, Territory, (in) The Invention of China. New Haven; London: Yale University Press. doi:10.2307/j.ctv17z8490.1

[2] Inspired by Sir Winston Churchill’s speech to the House of Commons, 10 May 1940.

[3] Taiwanese Relations Act (1979).

[4] Named after US nuclear scientist J. Robert Oppenheimer, the “father of the US atomic bomb.”

[5] 26th Session of the UN General Assembly, 25 October 1971.

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