Lessons from 'The Art of War' ahead of momentous  Xi-Trump summit
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Cast in the spotlight of the media glare, the historic summit between President Donald Trump and President Xi Jinping will involve issues of strategic importance to the leaders of both nations. To get a better understanding of how the Chinese side will approach the dialog, one must reflect on the lessons from the ancients.

President Xi and his top advisors will lean heavily on the words from Sun Tzu’s classic work, "The Art of War". This work was composed over two thousand years ago and remains required reading for any statesman within China today.

President Xi will observe President TrumpDonald John Trump Trump responds to calls to tear down monuments with creation of 'National Garden' of statues Trump: Children are taught in school to 'hate their own country' Trump accuses those tearing down statues of wanting to 'overthrow the American Revolution' MORE and guide his thoughts on the basis of a Sunzian analysis of the qualities that make for an effective leader. The Sun Tzu identifies five of these qualities: wisdom, sincerity, benevolence, courage and discipline. 

Wisdom: Sun Tzu places a premium on intellect and cognitive skills of the leader. It is the general or leader who is responsible for providing a net assessment of the strengths and weaknesses of the opposing side. In doing so, a leader can manipulate the scales in his favor to maximize his competitive advantage. 

Sincerity: In the Sunzian sense, sincerity relates to credibility. How credible is the leader? Will the leader back words with action? Will recommendations be followed to the letter once issued? Such acts relate to the credibility of a leader. 

Benevolence: In the Sunzian sense, benevolence refers to serving the interest of the greater good, serving the interests of the state and serving in a way that transcends the personal ambitions of the leader.

Courage: This is not physical courage, but moral courage. Steadfastness in decision-making and perhaps choosing an unpopular course of action when the more popular course may very well be dire. 

Discipline: Sun Tzu refers to both personal discipline and organizational discipline. The leader must be personally disciplined and strict in his bearing. This prevents the leader from showing any sign of weakness that can be exploited by the adversary.

Strictly limiting your communications prevents your adversary from gaining knowledge of your intent and plans. Wisdom enables you to know your adversary, discipline prevents your adversary from knowing you. 

Paired with these five virtues, Sun Tzu also catalogs the vices of a leader that can drive that leader to defeat:

"A leader who is rash and prone to anger, he can be insulted. A commander who obsesses over his reputation, he can be embarrassed. A leader who cares too much about the safety of his people, he can be troubled."

As the summit between the leaders unfolds, President Xi will be a careful observer of President Trump and frame his assessment with lessons learned from this historic and sacred text. 


Arthur Dong is a professor at Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business. He specializes in legal and business engagements between China and the United States. 

The views expressed by contributors are their own and not the views of The Hill.