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[Dialogue] ‘Our BRI and Eurasian economic area major partners play Go’

Kairat Kelimbetov, the governor at the "Astana" International Financial Center (AIFC). Photo: AIFC press service.

Pan Pacific Agency continues a series of publications about ancient oriental game Go on the eve of the World Amateur Go Championship (WAGC), which will be held in the city of Vladivostok in 2021. The press service of the championship interviews the key-note “Go people” in Russia, and then we introduce these people to the Asia-Pacific audience (see endnote for more details). In this feature of the series Kairat Kelimbetov, the governor at the “Astana” International Financial Center (AIFC), told Mikhail Yemelyanov, the 41st WAGC Director, where the link between investment and Go game stones is contained.

You learned about Go a long time ago, as I know. It’s very curious how it all started, what led you to start playing it?

It wasn’t that long ago, I only learned about the game maybe 10 years ago…

But that’s a long time ago.

At the time I was working at the sovereign wealth fund “Samruk-Kazyna”, the National Welfare Fund. We had extensive international contacts. And our partners, mostly those were companies from China, South Korea, Japan — they all talked about Go. I had some friends in Moscow who helped me cultivate this taste of Go. But not just as a sport but as a certain way of acquiring strategic skills. It was very interesting to me and just now when Sergei Nikolaevich (Gorkov, see this interview.- Ed.) invited me to be part of the organizing committee of the World Championship, I supported this initiative having the same idea in mind, of maintaining business communication.

Earlier you told Bloomberg, let me read it: “Kelimbetov is famous for keeping his optimism and his nerve in any situation. This approach might turn out to be the only right one for international investors who watch the world financial markets with caution”. Optimistic approach and composure are necessary qualities of a Go master, one can’t win without them. Can we say that a goban and stones are your helpers in doing business?

Yes, undoubtedly. First of all thank you for those comments. My personal credo is that the world belongs to optimists. It’s the optimists who make progress and foster development. Like I said, when I first learned about this game or I should rather say this art, I was mostly curious how it matched or how it could be projected onto reality. It was crucial to understand why there had always been so much importance attached to this game in the East. As a rule diplomats, war commanders and strategists studied this game in one way or another. I think this game is still underappreciated in the West. Chess was well received in the West and chess is also a tool of understanding strategy and tactics. But what Go gives us is a three-dimensional strategy.

I understand that high-level Go professionals and masters, high dan players have their unique understanding of things. But even the first level of understanding the game gives you impulses for the mind. What I learned for myself for example is that if western style of negotiations dictates a direct approach — yes or no, then in the East, in Asia a big part of the strategy is built in a roundabout way. I think it’s also very important to understand the psychology of your opponent. There are many combinations offered to challenge the opponent directly. What is behind it? Is it really a threat or an attempt to manipulate someone’s mind? It teaches you reserve and politeness.

It’s all very interesting in terms of discovering your opponent’s psychology and exploring your own, where your advantages are, whether you are confident or not, how you are planning to lead a discussion in the future and what’s especially exciting in business, when someone’s interest is involved. When a stone is placed on the board, it immediately raises a lot of questions. What does it mean? Is it interest? Resistance? Or maybe patrol? It is interesting for me to learn this from the point of view of understanding deep strategic ideas. So it would be wonderful to cultivate these strategic game methods in our country through communication with our Russian colleagues.

Many politicians and businessmen in Russia who play Go try to cultivate interest for it in their teams. International companies like Google and Huawei have their own Go clubs, in Russia we have those in Rostelecom, Yandex and in international representative offices like Samsung and LG. Have you thought of creating a Go business club at the International financial center?

We’ve been thinking about it for a while. We have many people who play Go here. But for us it’s mostly about building a communication network both in the country and within our region. I’d like to remind everyone that our International financial center was created primarily to become a bridge between the East and the West. In this respect being part of Eurasian territory or Central Asia, we’ve always witnessed this interpenetration of Eastern and Western cultures.

On the other hand the International financial center is the focal point of managerial staff. There is a whole business network around us where many people play this game. And if not, in terms of strategic management I think it’s time to start learning it. International financial center might be a good hub to connect and build business communication between western financial and business institutions and eastern ones. We have many partners who are working on this directly.

For example, our partners in the Belt and Road Initiative and the New Silk Road Initiative, our partners in Eurasian economic area, I know that many of them play Go. So International financial center really should create its own business club centered around the game of Go, which would help us among other things to establish communication with the rest of the world.

Will you sit down at the board and play during the World Championship in the city of Vladivostok? And who would you like to play with? Maybe you have some preferences?

Judging by the preliminary list of participants that I’ve seen, it would be very interesting to play with Mr. Chang Zhenming who is a famous Go master and also one of our country’s long-term partners. CITIC Group is active in Kazakhstan, we’ve been partners in many areas. It would be very interesting for me to feel the level of play of such masters and to continue our business relationship at the same time.

As far as I know he plays really well, he is a 7 dan professional, but it may be interesting for you to look at him from this point of view.

I highly appreciate the initiative of organizing this business match apart from the main event where only a limited number of Go players can play. It’s important to popularize the game in the public as well as among business elites who could use it as an additional communication tool to build bridges of cultural and humanitarian cooperation. Because I think for us it’s one more way of trying to understand eastern wisdom, ancient laws of the game and in turn introduce something technologically new. We’ve had AlphaGo, digital Go, there are many ideas of tokenization. There are some ideas that I like, that a game doesn’t have to end with someone’s win or loss but there are some win-win solutions, when both sides may benefit to further develop their intellectual abilities and emotional intelligence. Now there is a common phrase that “both brain hemispheres will be used”. Every person should strive to develop certain skills and I think that playing Go is a perfect way of doing that.

I did some research on Go development in Kazakhstan. You already have a Go federation, there is active development. Have you thought about maybe organizing a big tournament here? We have a lot of experience organizing different tournaments in Russia but there haven’t been any significant events in Kazakhstan yet.

Yes, indeed. The World Championship that will be held in Russia lets us think that if we want to make Go more popular here, it would be great to organize some big events. Maybe a World Championship as well at some point in the future, or maybe some masters’ tournaments in the near future. We are aiming at organizing such an event right now.

In general I must say that developing intellectual and strategic skills is important to our International financial center. For example, last year we organized the World Team Chess Championship together with the Kazakhstan Go Federation. There was a lot of enthusiasm, it was held right here in this building. We helped and supported the “What? Where? When?” intellectual game show. Developing intellectual skills is high priority in preparing future top managers in Kazakhstan. I think that Go will significantly enhance these capabilities of the International financial center. So we are interested and ready to cooperate on organizing a big masters’ tournament. This in turn will attract the attention of multinational corporations, they might want to participate in this as well.

The 1st interview of the series “Go people” was with Vitaliy Nesis, Russian businessman, the 2nd – with Aysen Nikolayev, a governor of the Russia’s Sakha Republic (Yakutiya), the 3rd – with Sergei Nosov, a governor of the Russia’s Magadan region, the 4th – with Sergey Gorkov, a managing director of “Rosgeology”

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