Rock Paper Scissors Diplomacy: The Unusual Role of the Game in International Relations
Rock Paper Scissors (RPS) is a simple hand game that many of us grew up playing. The concept is straightforward: rock breaks scissors, scissors cut paper, and paper covers rock. It’s a game of chance that often serves as a tiebreaker or a way to decide who gets the last piece of pizza. However, in recent years, RPS has taken on a whole new role in international relations.
In 2006, two professors from China and the United States devised the idea of “Rock Paper Scissors Diplomacy” as a way of easing tensions between their countries. This came at a time when relations between China and the US were strained, with disagreements over trade, human rights, and territorial disputes. The professors believed that playing RPS could provide a neutral way for diplomats and leaders to engage with each other.
The concept caught on, and soon RPS was being used by diplomats from all over the world. In 2014, world leaders gathered in Brazil for the BRICS summit, where RPS was used as a way to decide who would speak first at the meetings. At the 2018 G20 summit in Buenos Aires, world leaders were seen playing RPS during breaks in negotiations.
While it may seem trivial, RPS has become a powerful tool in international relations, offering a way to break the ice and establish a rapport between leaders who may have never met before. It’s also an effective way to diffuse tensions and find common ground in situations where negotiations have stalled.
For example, in 2012, the Taiwanese and Chinese governments engaged in a tense stand-off, with both sides claiming a group of small islands in the East China Sea. Negotiations had stalled, and tensions were high. However, a Taiwanese diplomat suggested that the two sides settle the dispute with a game of RPS. The Chinese delegation agreed, and the Taiwanese diplomat won, leading to an agreement that the islands would be jointly administered by Taiwan and China. While the decision itself was controversial, the use of RPS helped to break the deadlock and find a way forward.
RPS has even been used as a tool for conflict resolution in war-torn regions. In 2011, the UN used RPS to help resolve a dispute between rival gangs in a Haitian refugee camp. The gangs had been fighting over control of the camp’s water supply, causing tensions to escalate. However, after they were asked to play RPS to determine the winner, the gangs embraced the idea and ended up using RPS as a way to settle disputes in the future.
While RPS may seem like a game for children, its use in international diplomacy and conflict resolution highlights the importance of finding neutral ground in tense situations. By breaking down barriers and establishing rapport, RPS has become an unlikely tool for diplomacy and peace-building. As the world becomes more connected, it’s likely that RPS will continue to play a role in international relations, helping to bring nations together and break down walls.