Crisis Games: South East Asia (8 – 10 May)

Paul Williams and Hilary Bradshaw

Originally published in 1996/1997, Issue 1

The annual crisis games have now become a regular feature of the International Politics department’s calendar and are perceived as being a great success. The latest of these was, in our opinion, no exception. The second crisis game of the year was held from 8 to 10 May, as usual at Greygynog, near Newtown. The scenario was South East Asia, focusing specifically on the territorial disputes over the Spratly Islands. We split into teams which made up the countries of ASEAN: Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam, plus China and Taiwan. With teams being encouraged to play their roles as realistically as possible, the gods, on this occasion were somewhat relieved to discover that Environmental Conferences by and large assumed precedence over tactical bombing strategies. Having been credited with being one of the more peacefully inclined groups, certain members of staff expressed the hope that some of us may reach the giddy heights of statespersonship that our roles enabled us to simulate! News of the developing scenario was brought to the participants via Greygynog’s own broadcasting corporation, GBC. Adopting Trevor MacDonald as an unsurpassable role model the dedicated news team attempted to inform the players of the game’s events as and when they happened.

We received the original scenario on the coach. The main event to start off with was that the Free Papua Movement (OPM) had taken 14 people hostage in the Indonesian jungle, 4 of whom were British. The intrepid GBC journalists secured interviews with both the Indonesian government and the head of the OPM, Kelly Kwalik. The situation escalated after 2 British hostages were executed, to which the Indonesian government responded by Napalming any villages in which it was suspected that the terrorists were hiding. This news story gave way to coverage of the ASEAN Regional Forum, hosted by Brunei, which included the historic signing (duly captured on tape by the ever-present GBC team) of the Southeast Asian Nuclear Weapon Free Zone Treaty. The Philippines hosted an Environmental Conference, only slightly interrupted by a bomb in Manila which killed 63 people including the Indonesian Environmental minister.

Soon afterwards the Chinese military exercise ‘Golden Dragon’, turned into Operation ‘Golden Dragon’ when China found Filipinos on some of the Spratly Islands which are disputably claimed by China. The Chinese succeeded in expelling the Filipinos, and then in an unexpectedly generous fit, gave away another group of islands to Malaysia. Underlying the main news stories were deeper, longer running tensions between the claimants to the Spratly Islands, the relationship between Taiwan and China, and the involvement of the USA and China in the region. Most important was the way in which after the first few moves/days, the ASEAN states cooperated to a high degree, taking joint stands against Chinese military activity especially.

The role of personality in politics is a topic that holds more interest for some than others, but if the game demonstrated nothing else, it highlighted how personality can manipulate and influence group decision-making. While of course no names shall be mentioned, certain characters obviously perceived their roles as determining very different agendas. Players are encouraged to draw up a list of their future objectives before the game and evaluate their team’s performance in the light of these when the game ends. It was in this final plenary session that the notably different agendas were made public, these ranged from world peace (a reassuring change from attempts at world domination!) to environmental concerns, vigorously demonstrated by a somewhat reluctant and time pressured Mr Bellamy, and from securing a half-mile square lump of isolated rock to just making friends with everybody. In order to achieve their objectives, team members were not above the use of certain underhand measures, including assassination attempts. Even members of “the gods” were not opposed to blatant acts of intimidation. On this point one particular “god” demonstrated a perhaps far too convincing impression of a terrorist bent on killing both British students and innocent journalists.

Criticism was made by the gods on a number of factors, most notably that in real life the states would perhaps not have cooperated to such a great extent due to internal difficulties, external tensions and a desire not to be subsumed into a greater whole – since many have only recently emerged from colonial rule. The states were also criticised for not involving religious and cultural differences between them and within their own countries in the game.

All in all the general impression of the participants was that the game had given an important, albeit brief, insight into the murky world of the international statesperson. While, perhaps for the sake of avoiding undue complexity, the game lacked the presence of the region’s non-state actors, it largely achieved its aims and objectives. The games provide a valuable forum in which students may discover both the pressures involved in decision-making and that many of our lectures at Aberystwyth are possessing of more normal traits than we are led to believe … indeed some are even willing to donate the clothes from their backs in order to add to the game’s realism! In our opinion the £10 entry fee is money well spent for the time at Greygynog. Whatever your opinions regarding the nature of international politics, whether you wish to add subtle nuances to the growing vocabulary of strategic techno-speak (tankies), or you desire to emancipate the oppressed masses from the confines of masculine militaristic discourse (critical theorists (note the small “c”)), then why not come and express those opinions to your fellow students in a crisis game?