“Opportunities multiply as they are seized”…Sun Tzu
Crises are like opportunities they knock without giving any intimation, often overwhelming the targeted entity if not prepared. The world over ,only those communities, nation states and individuals have turned the things around who have foreseen any crisis and turned these crisis into opportunities. For them crisis is a synonym for an opening waiting to be exploited. Many city states, countries and empires have been built by leaders who leveraged their country’s unique history, geography and assets to control the state’s environment and sphere of influence. Thus these leaders were able to ensure their state’s ability to survive, thrive, become stable and demonstrate their neighbors and ultimately prosper for hundreds of years.The Roman Empire grew from a small area surrounding Rome to extend from UK to the Black sea to Egypt to what would be known as Gibraltar.
The above empire lasted over 500 years, same with the Mongols and the yesteryear super power Great Britain. One of the oldest civilizations of the world the “Chinese Civilization” formed by the Xia dynasty lasting till Qing dynasty in 1912 CE have been able to survive, thrive and expand its frontiers all around by simply following the basic tenets of its master tactician “Sun Tzu” born in 544 BC. Though lots of water has flown down the river Yangtze and Yalu since that time, but the ever crafty Chinese have ingratiated this world by their deceptive looks, thinking and finally actions to appropriate anything and everything which fits into their scheme of things. Since the time China came into being as a result of violent purge in 1949 to form into a formidable PRC/ People’s Republic of China, the country has been in the throes of changes with in itself as also effecting changes in its neighborhood often by violent means but following strictly the principles of its master strategist Sun Tzu.
Though the classic treatise on warfare /strategy by Sun Tzu called as the “Art of War” lists 10 principles upon which hinges his entire stratagem ,I in this article of mine have chosen a mix of these principles to proffer my view point with examples/timelines to portray as to how China has reinvented them to suit its geo strategic requirements as also revolutionized the market dynamics in the context of the modern world finally changing the world order to a very large extent .Though in a slightly modified form these principles nonetheless will tell the reader what China has been up to by their application. The principle of “Win all without fighting” by achieving the objective without destroying it has been beautifully applied by China immediately after it tasted victory in its nationalistic war in 1945 after having defeated the nationalistic Chiang-Kai-Sheik forces ably supported by the US. After having consolidated its position a bit, Chinese published an early map showing a U- shaped eleven dash line. Two dashes in the gulf of Tonkin were removed later on the behest of the Chinese premier Zhou en Lai reducing them to nine dash line. These nine dash lines represented Chinese claims of the major part of South China Sea .The contested areas now includes Sparty islands, Pratas islands, the Macclesfield bank and Scarborough shoal. Though in July 2016 an arbitral tribunal order pertaining to 1982 UN convention on the law of seas ruled that China had no locus standi to base their claims ,China nonetheless has gone ahead with its predetermined agenda of expanding its claims . It has even built artificial islands off late in that area with considerable investment giving the whole issue an air of fait accompli to the world at large. The situation has come to such a pass now that with its systematic cartographic aggression along with the time tested formula of “Land for debt swap” it has silenced countries like Philippines, Vietnam, Indonesia etc ,thereby lending credence to its principle of “Win all without fighting” .
Come 1949, when China became a People’s Republic of China from Republic of China and put into action its next principle of Sun Tzu i.e. “Timing is essential”. As per Sun Tzu, the quality of decision is like the well timed swoop of a falcon which enables it to strike and destroy its victim. Realizing that it had consolidated its hold in the main land, China started the annexation of Tibet in 1949/50 knowing that the British hegemony of yore, which granted Tibet an independent status, had diminished with their departure from the Indian subcontinent a neighbor to its immediate south. Sun Tzu argues that it is important to be extremely prudent in choosing the timing of when to engage the enemy. While a good strategy in mind is essential, a plan is only as good as it is appropriate in facing the situation. The annexation of Tibet in fact coincided with the fluid situation obtaining in its immediate south i.e. India. Having just gained independence, India too was in a state of flux grappling with the refugee problem, Kashmir problem and not to miss the after effects of Kashmir war with Pakistan to pay not much attention to a dangerous situation developing in its immediate north. In the west the US and its allies were busy with the” Marshall plan”/ Berlin airlift and its consequences again to pay scant regard to the Chinese perfidy.
Drawing a parallel to the above , in marketing for example it is important to pay attention to what is happening in a market before entering it and to stay on top of it i.e. responding to the dynamics of the trade in real time frame . In the Chinese technology industry for example start ups tend to emphasize speed of execution and organizational flexibility in order to stay afloat. While China is a large market big enough to support many start ups , it is generally considered a ‘Winner take it all ”market meaning that the startups that succeed are likely to be the ones that dominate. A perfect example of “Timing is essential”in the business parlance. The advent of 1950 saw the Chinese troops under the name of Chinese people’s volunteer army/CPV cross the Yaluriver to assist North Korean army in its offensive against the combined might of US and South Korean armies in the infamous Korean War after the Americans crossed the 38th parallel. Why did the CPV decide to jump into the fray when it was not even their war and also not being fought in their part of the country and more so when China was just trying to consolidate its position in the comity of nations after a difficult birth? The reason is quite easy to find in the Sun Tzu’s principle of ‘Character based leadership” – leading by example and also the principle of “Change represents opportunity”. The influence of leaders like Mao Zeo Tung within the CCP/Chinese communist party who had with great resolve overthrown the Chiang –Kai-Sheik dispensation, a cohort of US as also the fear of US capitalist tendencies creeping into the Chinese mindset via the Korean peninsula were the main triggers for China entering the Korean war . The very fact that end of WW II had brought an abrupt end to the imperial powers of its neighbors to include Japan, Vietnam, etc represented an opportunity for change i.e. spread of communism into these dispensations, another catalyst for the Chinese intervention in Korea.
As per Sun Tzu, “In the midst of chaos lies the opportunity”. With the collapse of imperialist powers like the UK, Japan, and France after the WWII, the vacuum thus created needed to be filled in by someone equally powerful in China’s neighborhood. Hence flexing of muscles by CCP/Chinese communist party in the Korean War. As far as Sino-Indian conflict of 1962, 1967 the near conflict in 1986 and the present crisis is concerned, the Chinese actions are guided by a mix of Sun Tzu’s principles of “Timing is essential, “Have a unique plan and “Success breeds success”. China’s invasion of India in 1962 coincided with the infamous incident of “Cuban missile crisis” between the US and USSR which nearly brought the two super powers to near nuclear exchange. The very fact that world attention was riveted towards this development, it gave China the requisite leeway to open up a new front adjacent to its newly acquired TAR/Tibetan autonomous region and correct the so called historical anomaly left by the British i.e. the un-demarcated boundary on its own terms by invading India . Connected with this event was Mao’s quest to declare himself as an unchallenged leader in Asia as also to cut to size Nehru and his Non-aligned attitude. The present standoff at the LAC is also a perfect example of “Timing is essential” since the world is in the thick of Corona quagmire thus dividing attention to the Chinese advantage.
The very fact that China in the last decade or so has become an economic engine powering the world economy , and riding a crest of success upon success be it in matters economy, military etc propelled them to kick start their next principle i.e. “Success breeds success. Incidentally the principle of “Timing is essential” has been repeatedly applied by the Chinese to advance their hegemony be it in Korean peninsula, Indo –China theatre or even Vietnam conflict in 1979 to shape up, the things for their own comfort .Sun Tzu in fact is remembered the world over for his marvelous treatise on warfare, but what most miss the woods for the trees is his application of the same principles to galvanize the market forces in his favor. Some of the above principles but extrapolated on a market template have catapulted the Chinese economy to a staggering height making it unreachable for a mediocre country. ‘Capture your market without destroying it” has been drawn from the analogy of ‘Win all without fighting” and capturing your objective without destroying it. Since goal of your business is to survive and prosper, you must capture your market. However you must do it in a fashion that it doesn’t destroy the market in the process. A company can do it in several ways ,such as attacking parts of the market that are under-served or by using subtle ,indirect and low key approach that will not draw a competitor’s attention or response. What should be avoided is the price war. China has been very lucky in this aspect. By using a very low key technology China has been able to mass produce items of general use thereby keeping its price under check and avoiding a price war with its rival’s worldwide. Researches have revealed that price wars draw the quickest and most aggressive responses from competitors as well as leaving the market drained of profit.
The principle of “Avoid your competitor’s strength and attack their weaknesses” in market parlance has been given an altogether different hue. The western approach to warfare has spilled over to business competition, leading many companies to launch head-on, direct attacks against their rivals leading to attrition all over the company. Instead you should focus on the competition’s weakness which maximizes your gains while minimizing the use of resources. This by definition increases the profits. In the similar vein other principles of Sun Tzu have found vast applicability in the business world changing the very meaning, means and ways of transacting business. Seldom comes a personality in the annals of a civilization which becomes the life blood of its people even after passing thousands of years and acts as a glue to bind them in the true spirit of their race. Sun Tzu has been one of such personalities. I am sure he must be turning in his grave and smiling his luck away for placing China in such an enviable position today that most countries have lost their sleep.