The PRC Tests its Borders in the 2023 Crisis Simulation

Written by Ciara Perez

March 5, 2023

Last weekend, Patterson School students participated in the annual spring crisis simulation. This simulation differs from the fall simulation because it’s entirely designed by a Patterson alumnus. This year, the simulation revolved around the tensions between China, Taiwan, the United States, and Japan over a crisis in the Taiwan Strait. With the help of Patterson faculty mentors, University of Kentucky journalism students, and two alumni volunteers, the simulation was brought to life. Students were divided into four teams: the People’s Republic of China (PRC), the Republic of China (Taiwan), Japan, and the United States. Each team was provided with the background of events leading up to the crisis as well as a set of instructions outlining the country specific objectives they were expected to meet by the conclusion of the simulation.

The situation at the start of the crisis was that the PRC had conducted a week-long military drill around Taiwan and its territorial waters, however, 80% of Chinese vessels remained in place at the conclusion of the drill. The influx of Chinese vessels in the region sent Taiwan into a state of emergency. Three Taiwanese islands, Kinmen, Matsu, and Wuciou had also been surrounded, causing a disruption to international shipping lanes, and significantly reducing trade. Additionally, the PRC was regularly crossing into Taiwan’s territorial waters and Air Identification Zone. This sequence of events had neighboring Japan and ally United States on high. In response, Japan chose to host a high-level delegate meeting between itself, the PRC, Taiwan, and the United States. With those facts in mind and the individual objectives of each team, students engaged in negotiations to resolve the brewing crisis.

Throughout the crisis, teams arranged negotiation sessions to discuss formal arrangements which would advance their country’s interests. Approaching each session, students were expected to understand the real-world relationship between the countries in play and act accordingly, and to use knowledge of existing agreements to foster and advocate for new ones. For example, one objective of the United States was to gain increased access to its military bases in Japan. Since Japan is an ally of the United States, this was an easy task because it was also in the security interests of Japan, should the PRC escalate things closer to their borders. Throughout the simulation, there were several arms sales agreements between the United States, Japan, and Taiwan to aid Taiwan in its self-defense measures. Many United States plays during the crisis involved moving its military to demonstrate strength and its determination to defend Taiwan. And lastly, there were several bilateral negotiations between the PRC and the three other delegations to attempt a tit-for-tat strategy so the PRC would agree to move its fleet back to the Chinese mainland. Between negotiation sessions, delegations engaged in a Twitter war, held press conferences and released statements, and conducted intelligence sharing. On top of all that, SIM Control (simulation leadership) sporadically sent out intelligence updates to each team that sometimes required swift action be taken.

By the end of the first day, no team had succeeded in deescalating the situation and getting the PRC to back down. Instead, the day ended with the PRC having completely blockaded the three Taiwanese islands off the Chinese mainland, causing an immediate humanitarian crisis. With citizens of all nationalities living on the islands with no access to food or medications, Japan was quick to sign an agreement with the PRC to provide humanitarian aid. The second day of the crisis, the United States followed suit in sending aid. However, the humanitarian crisis was never resolved because all attempts to negotiate with the PRC proved futile as the delegation refused to back down without the United States cooperating with unreasonable requests. One such request involved the United States fully withdrawing its Seventh Fleet from the opening of the Taiwan Strait and returning it to the base in Japan, and in return the PRC agreed that it would remove some of its ships from the surrounding area. The United States didn’t find that to be an adequate trade, as it did not uphold the United States redline to protect Taiwan, and therefore the negotiations stalled.

In sum, the crisis simulation created an environment in which students took on leadership roles, built strategic-thinking skills, and learned the art of speaking diplomatically and ambiguously. It also provided students the opportunity to better learn and understand the relations within the region, as each team was expected to encompass the mannerisms of a real delegation from their assigned country. Though the crisis did not result in an immediate solution, the teams managed to avoid open war with the PRC which meant the simulation was a success.

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