This past weekend the 3 credit Int'l Crisis Negotiation course took place at CMU. I went to Pittsburgh to take part in the event. It was exhausting, but very worthwhile.
A few weeks before the event the students were informed of the conflict we would be studying. In our case it was the South China Sea (SCS). SCS is a heavily disputed area that has pitted Vietnam, the Philippines, India, Indonesia, and China against one another. Japan and the US are also engaged to protect safe passage of their vessels in the region. Widely accepted international maritime law has been ignored (or stretched) by various nations as the region is rich in a variety of natural resources. We were given a wealth of documentation to review as a foundation for the weekend program. Furthermore, the documentation provided roughly a year of purported 'future' happenings that were realistic based on the current situation in SCS. Students were divided into teams and assigned to a nation in the region that we were to represent during the weekend of negotiations, which took place in an imagined March 2016. We were also given confidential information related to our assigned nation that would guide our negotiations. Essentially, each team had their own objectives based on what their country would likely seek in this type of collaboration.
The weekend consisted of an opening meeting followed by about a dozen negotiating sessions arranged by the teams based on strategy. Between negotiations the team had private time to reflect and amend strategy in a team room. The exercise was 10 hours on day 1, and about 8 on day 2. Communication between teams was guided by formal restrictions. Absolutely no work was done overnight and there were no casual discussions between teams outside of formal negotiations.
My group represented Japan. Japan has no formal claim to any land in the region, but 70% of Japanese energy passes through the SCS. Every team faithfully represented their country in a way that was likely to reflect what may have happened in real life.
I found this to be a fascinating exercise in strategy. Unfortunately, all teams struggled genuinely on day 1, primarily due to struggles with the Chinese and Indonesian delegations. After three grueling meetings with China we felt both parties agreed to two principals especially important to Japan. Free passage of commercial ships through the SCS, and the setup of a hotline between Beijing and Tokyo to address any issues that may arise threatening the security of Japanese ships passing through the region. But after we agreed on the terms, the Chinese delegation began to ‘add’ to the agreement in a manner unfavorable to Tokyo. Our team was respectful during negotiations, but extremely frustrated in the team meeting that followed. We decided to issue a press release to all teams that was tactfully ambiguous. Essentially, our careful phrasing implied we had reached an agreement with China on these two terms, when in fact, we had not. We knew that China would be hard pressed to decline a deal allowing safe passage of economic ships in the region, as it would infuriate all parties at the conference. We were met with significant anger by the parties representing China, as we expected. They insisted we recall our press release. We refused, and suggested they submit a press release renouncing free passage of economic ships through the SCS. They exclaimed that they obviously could do no such thing. We felt our plan was pretty brilliant.
But, on day 2, we were a bit ‘iced out’ of negotiations. We expected this could be the case. China issued a press release implying that Japan had negotiated with China at the expense of Japanese allies, which was not truthful but was very impactful.