‘In a war, the best tactic consists in avoiding the opponent’s strong points and striking him at his weak points.’
Sun Zi, The art of war, 5th century BC
Washington, White House
Three weeks. Three weeks had gone by since China announced the scheduled end of Microsoft’s presence on its soil. The medium and long term forecasts for the US economy were deteriorating at an alarming rate. One after another, entire sectors of industry had revealed their all-too-great vulnerability. China, on the other hand, had done rather well during those weeks of crisis. Not only had it resisted – to no-one’s real surprise – to the pressures applied by the United States, but it had justified quite convincingly its policy before the international community with endless statements. But, to that date, it had failed to rally other countries around its cause. China remained isolated. And for that, credit had to be given to the heavy-handed diplomacy of Secretary of State Ed Nimoy.
In the United States, public resentment towards China was reaching new heights. Already accused of taking away jobs from American workers and maintaining a monumental trade deficit, China was now catalogued among the rogue nations, guilty of having deliberately sabotaged the US industry. Voters were demanding justice. All the more so as the financial markets were collapsing. Not to mention the property market, whose prices were ebbing away alarmingly, threatening mortgages.
The media continually played on the theme redundancies and unemployment. Deflation was becoming the norm in most areas of the economy. General resentment got to such a stage that the public did not even want to know about possible rational reasons that may have incited China to turn its back on Windows – all the focus was on the ravages it was causing back home.
To the president, there was no real alternative. He had to retaliate. A show of strength and determination was bound to bolster his public opinion ratings. And that could only make Jerry Bakhash, the White House’s spin doctor, rub his hands with glee. The Cabinet was already busy devising a number of graded retaliatory actions.
As he burst into the Oval office, the President seemed a different man, as if the economic debacle and affront endured by his country revealed an unsuspected war leader in him. The man, once mocked in the press as a yellow belly unable to make a decision alone, now jumped into the role of the lone avenger. He stepped towards his desk with marked determination and eyed each of his collaborators from top to bottom with an air of superiority. The first line of action, proposed by Benjamin Bischoff, the Army chief of staff and Admiral of the US naval forces, came across as far too wet to the President.
‘I want to see China cringe, do you hear me?’ he threatened. ‘What aircraft carriers do we have ready right now?’
‘At the moment, the John C. Stennis is undergoing an overhaul, the Carl Vinson is at its Bremerton base and can be readied for another three weeks. Likewise for the Abraham Lincoln on exercise off the coast of Everett, but I suppose we could bring them all in sooner if we have to. So that leaves us with the Nimitz currently at sea off Hawaii and the Kitty Hawk now at Yokosuka in Japan. The latter could thus enter the China Sea zone almost right away, but it’s very old.
President Walker would not have any of this. He had an altogether different idea of his armada’s might. He got up from his chair and gazed briefly through the window. A few plump blackbirds were pecking around the White House lawn. He handed out his verdict:
‘Now you say the Nimitz is too old…’
At the same time he could not afford to wait. He leant across and glared at each of his collaborators.
‘What about Ronald Reagan?’
The ninth Nimitz-class aircraft carrier was not only the most modern vessel of the fleet, it’s mere name symbolised America’s comeback in the Eighties, when it got the better of the Soviet empire. It was also the ideal platform for projecting America’s supremacy in the Sea of China.
Bischoff, the Navy chief of staff, saw things differently.
‘The USS Ronald Reagan has indeed joined its base, Sir, but it is currently undergoing trials off Pearl Harbor.’
The deception could be seen on the President’s face. He would never get used to the inflexible thinking of those blasted military. He spat out his words like bullets:
‘Admiral, you have not understood me. I want the Ronald Reagan. Have I made myself quite clear?’
Bischoff’s efforts to contain his irritation made him silent for a moment. Trying to remain calm, he protested:
‘Mr President, perhaps I should give you the exact picture regarding the Ronald Reagan. The ship is still in the validation stage for its nuclear reactors, and we have to rerun all the test procedures for the boilers. We need at least another month. There is also the fact that some of our airmen are not yet mission ready, and I cannot take the responsibility of sending them to combat under these conditions.’
Marion Stone, the vice President, then spoke out.
‘Admiral, speaking as a civilian, this suggestion may come across as somewhat naive… but… couldn’t we simply switch over crews?’
‘I’m not sure I understand what you mean, Madam.’
‘Well, couldn’t we transfer airmen from another aircraft carrier to the Ronald Reagan, and so make it operational sooner?’
Reluctantly, the admiral conceded:
‘We could conceivably replace the trainee F18 pilots by more experienced men from the Nimitz. The procedures are indeed identical and standardised in this respect. The main difference for the pilots is that the Reagan uses only three cables to stop the planes, instead of four on the…’
‘Admiral, we are at war,’ interrupted the President, wanting to hear no more. ‘Get the Ronald Reagan ready for mission.’
‘Very well, Sir, the Reagan shall be ready in three weeks.’
‘Admiral, I’m giving you not a day over two weeks!’
One of the men had remained inside the compartment, pistol in hand, as his colleague kept guard in the corridor. Jin remained silent, overcome by guilt for not having been able to do anything. She was looking at Tom who was appealing to her sadly with his eyes. At around 8 a.m., someone knocked on the compartment door. Without opening it, the policeman inside asked in a loud voice:
‘Is it you?’
Just as he was waiting for the answer, the door shuddered before crashing open against his head with a heavy thud. A man appeared from behind the gap. Heavily built, clad like a farm worker with a deeply set cloth cap, he was deliberately trying to hide his face as much as he could. Without a word, he pulled out some fine nylon cord from his haversack and began to tie up the unconscious guard. Then, he switched on the central light in the compartment, hitherto still dark and with all the curtains drawn, bringing Jin and Tom into view.
‘Zeying!’ exclaimed Jin as she recognized the member of her team.
‘Colonel Zhou sent me over to protect you.’
Lowering his voice, he continued:
‘We haven’t got much time! We’re convinced somebody’s planted a transponder on one of you!’
‘A transponder?’ queried Tom.
‘That’s right, a radio-emitting microchip so you can be tracked at a distance. Zhou believes its you who’s got that chip, Tom. Jin, we’re in a tricky situation. They’ve been keeping a close track on you with that transponder, right from Beijing Station. We’re sure it’s the work of Guo’s police.’
The train slowed down, getting ready to pull into its final destination, Xi’an railway terminus.
‘Now, a bunch of heavily-armed men are waiting for you at the station. There’s no safe exit. You’re not to leave the station building, these of the colonel’s own instructions. Stay in the main hall and wait…’
The train was now crawling along. Jin poked her head out of the window. Several plain-clothes police officers were posted along the track, making it impossible for them to alight on the opposite side of the platform.
‘I’m afraid I have to leave you now,’ said Zeying apologetically.
The train ground to a halt at Xi’an station. In no time, their rescuer had mingled with the flow of arriving passengers. Tom and Jin followed suit. They quickly merged with a group of European tourists towing their luggage on wheels as they made their way to the exit. Jin looked around discreetly, trying to pick out the plain clothes policemen who were bound to be looking for them. A few paces inside the main hall area, they stopped as instructed. They had hardly dropped their luggage when some passengers in front of them began to shout. The sudden echoing sound of a powerful car horn immediately drowned them out, growing in volume. Next, a 4×4 burst inside the station building, scattering the bystanders away in a panic.
Within the space of a few seconds, the vehicle had climbed up the short flight of steps, crossed the main entrance and charged towards the astounded passengers amid intermittent strident hoots. The vehicle scrambled to a stop a few paces from the couple and the front passenger door sprang open. Jin instantly grabbed Tom by the arm and, exploiting the surrounding chaos, leapt inside the large SUV. As Jin was pulling the door closed, a spray of bullets smashed against the windows and body panels.
The projectiles seemed to bounce off. They were no match for the heavily armoured vehicle.
‘I trust you had a good journey, Jin?’
The young woman instantly recognized Zhou’s voice. He was behind the wheel and appeared to be having fun. He drove across the main hall, hooting with gusto, heading generally toward the platforms. The people around had fled and dived down to escape the bullets as their detonations boomed in the vast hall. Zhou pressed his right foot down. The car crashed through a first security barrier, then a second, before bouncing down the five steps leading to the tracks. The suspension took the jolts in its stride. The 4×4 mounted the rails at a glancing angle and straightened, bringing the open track before them into full view from the windscreen. Straight ahead for Beijing. It rumbled over the wooden sleepers with a thunderous roar that gained in pitch as Zhou accelerated. Jin looked around. No one was following.
After about three kilometres of bumpy ride, Zhou left the track and swung the steering wheel to the left, causing the 4×4 to plunge into a ditch and pick up a small dirt track that led onto a tarmacked road. Pulling up just before a T-junction, he consulted the GPS road navigator he had programmed to display the destination and route. Zhou turned right and followed the road for 5 kilometres before veering off to the left along a lane that led to a derelict-looking warehouse. The car entered the deserted building at low speed. Zhou switched off the engine and made a sign for the young couple to leave.
Jin recognized two other members of the Action Service group standing by an unassuming Toyota Corolla.
‘This is Tom Bailey. Tom, allow me to introduce you to Colonel Zhou…’
The two men shook hands. It was the first time Zhou met the young American who seemed to mean so much to Jin. He gave him just one short look and then resumed to his business.
‘It’s only a matter of minutes before they find us. But first of all, we must get hold of that transponder!’
‘Zhou, we’ve bought new clothes, changed our bags, toiletries, and even our shoes… we haven’t even got a cell phone…’
Zhou remained unswayed.
‘And yet they’re permanently on your trace, even at this very minute! I want you to place all your personal belongings on the bonnet.’
They duly obeyed and spread all the contents of their shoulder bags on the vehicle. Colonel Zhou cast a rapid glance over the clothes and sundry items.
‘What’s this?’ he suddenly asked, grabbing hold of the object that caught his interest.
‘Why, it’s my iPod,’ answered Tom.
‘A digital music player. I bought it in San Francisco. I never go without it. It’s always there with me, in my bag,’ protested Tom.
Zhou cut him short.
‘Look no further. This device has enough energy to power a transmitter and signal your position to American low orbit satellites. It’s every bit as precise as a GPS.’
‘But how could they have introduced such a device inside my iPod?’ queried Tom.
‘They could easily have taken it and tampered with it, or even have substituted yours for another one. They only had to transfer the music files from one to the other.’
Tom was short of arguments. Zhou carried on inspecting the items spread before him, but found nothing else suspicious.
‘Okay, now we split up without wasting time. I’ll take the player with its battery charger and head in one direction. This way, I’ll be the one the CIA follows, while you go in the other direction.’
‘Where do we go this time?’
‘Take this old car, you’ll go by unnoticed in that. Here’s a map and a set of instructions. You’re going to hide in a monastery near the Yangtze gorges until further notice. Here, take my cell phone; the number to join me is entered in the memory. It’s still anonymous and shouldn’t be tapped, but only use it in case of emergency so as not to give yourself away. It’s a satellite phone… it was scrambled by our services but uses American satellites. So careful, they could still locate you with it – only use it if you really have to. And take this watch, it’s a bit big but contains a GPS beacon. It computes your position and sends it by satellite. Only activate in case of absolute necessity! We’ll then come and collect you.’
Jin moved up to Zhou and hugged him with all her strength. He took her by the shoulders and tried to reassure her.
‘Don’t worry, Jin, we’ll pull you through! It’s just a matter of time. The authorities are still turning a deaf ear, but it won’t be long before they lose interest in this case. And then we’ll be able to straighten things out!’
‘How can I thank you enough, Zhou,’ she answered, pressing herself against him. And then, realising that Zhou had said nothing on the subject of Tom, she added:
‘Zhou, I want you to know he saved my life! He should really be back home safe and sound in the United States instead of fleeing away from the Chinese police forces!’
Zhou hesitated for a moment, then whispered in her ear:
‘You know, I was in front of your house too when they came to arrest you.’
Breaking into a smile, she replied in a gentle voice:
‘I was sure of it…’
She kissed him tenderly on the cheek.
Then she went back to Tom and took his hand in hers. They had to go. She waved goodbye to her former team mates as they went back into the big 4×4 with Zhou. She and Tom got inside the Corolla. The big vehicle was already disappearing in the distance, along with the iPod.
The couple was setting off for their next estimation.
Washington, National Security Council
China’s banning order had come to execution: in just over a week, the aircraft carrier Ronald Regan was to be readied and sent to bring its mighty firepower to the Sea of China. It would be sailing off in defence of America’s vital interests, brutally and unilaterally upset by China’s embargo on its star software product. America was struck deep in the flesh, within its own soil. Entire sectors of its economy were crumbling in droves, going through a deflationary spiral reminiscent of the Great Depression. The Ronald Reagan was not on a mission to safeguard the interests of a private company. No, it was going to defend the American nation: its workers threatened by unemployment, its home owners overburdened by their loan repayments, its pensioners whose retirement funds were going into bankruptcy. In sum, the very fabric of America. It was off to restore the power of an America slighted from across the ocean by a hostile and criminal China, a China that had declared a war in the most dastardly way imaginable. America’s military supremacy had to produce a dazzling display of force. Its domination had to be unmitigated, total, absolute.
Such was the message Jerry Bakhash, the President’s spin doctor, was trying to promote. The doctrine was simple. Get China to yield under America’s show of strength. ‘Make China pay’ became the new catchphrase bandied about by those who wanted to impose on that country the trade concessions needed to guarantee the monopoly rights of US high-tech industries in the Chinese markets. The future was to remain America’s exclusive property, its own hunting ground. Woe betide anyone who thought otherwise. The Chinese were about to reap what they had so recklessly sown!
They were gathered around Robert Larson, the much-feared national security adviser, the architect of the White House’s response to the Chinese aggression. He was the real strategist, the brains behind the President. The one who, together with Secretary of State Ed Nimoy, instigated the United States’ ultra-conservative policies.
But while Larsson liked to operate in the plush rooms of the White House, Nimoy preferred to fling his weight out in the open.
It was a secret for no-one that both men belonged to that notorious think tank which, at the fall of the Berlin Wall, was set up to promote America’s exclusive domination over the world throughout the new century. It branded the Europeans as people exhibiting typically feminine characteristics – predominantly yin, as the Chinese would say – in whom courage and realism had given way to sentimentalism and wayward idealism.
Its thus befell on the United States to take up the defence of the Western world.
‘Remember what Deng Xiaoping once said: ‘We must conceal our potential and gain time. We must immerse ourselves silently in our work, without brandishing the flag, without doing anything excessive.‘ Do you remember that? Well, there you have China’s global strategy in a nutshell. It’s playing poker, taking on a low profile, gaining precious time in which to grow, expand and build up its power…. discreetly, well out of the world’s gaze. But one day the dragon will come out of its cave. And, believe me, you’ll then see a huge, raging and invulnerable demon. Awesome. Pray that God spares us of this creature. We have only a few short years in front of us to tame that dragon while it’s still small and vulnerable, while it’s still a suckling infant feeding on the rest of the world.
Because, mark my words, that’s just what China is: the growing monster we feed day after day with our investments, our foreign exchanges, our factories out there, our technology transfers. We are fattening up a baby belonging to a species whose adult behaviour is a complete mystery to us. There is only one thing we can be sure about: the beast is hungry and one day soon, tomorrow, it will become a giant, crushing us under all its weight. It is famished; it eats, consumes, spreads, works, and builds itself up all the time. Even a 10-year-old child discovering Malthus’s theory will tell you: we must interrupt its growth. The monster is about to eat all our crops, burn all our oil, breathe all our oxygen. The planet is just too small for China.’
All those present exchanged looks. These words were clearly not to leak out. Edwin Nimoy had very personal notions of diplomacy and relations between nations. They rested on the concept of domination.
‘You’re probably thinking I’m a Cassandra! Do you want to know how China will evolve? No problem, just take a look at the history of Japan.’
‘Japan?’ stammered the National Security Council’s number two in surprise.
‘That’s right, Japan! Just like China, Japan too was a ‘backward’ country by Western standards. The mid 19th century saw the end of two and a half centuries of total self dependence when an American, Commodore Perry, came over to Japan with his fleet of seven steamships. In 1854, he forced the shogun to open its ports to American vessels and its country to international trade. In 1867, a 15-year old emperor called Mutsuhito took over. He modernised his country at lightning speed and built up a powerful army inspired by the Prussian model.
That’s where my comparison begins. Having become an imperialistic power, much like Europe at the time, Japan set off in 1895 to attack China, conquering Taiwan and southern Manchuria. Ten years later, in 1905, Japan takes on and defeats Russia, one of the greatest powers in Europe. It then goes on to annex Korea, Sakhalin and another bit of China.
In 1919, just after world War one, Japan possessed the world’s third most powerful naval fleet. Then, an economic downturn in the 1920s brought in a militarization of its government. To safeguard its exports and supply of raw materials, Japan decided to create a so-called ‘living space’ that encompassed all of South East Asia, the West Pacific and coastal China. In 1927, General Tanaka became prime Minister and announced the policy of ‘positive expansion, thanks to which Japan was to dominate Asia’. In 1938, Japan declared ‘The new order in the Far East’. In 1941, on the eve of the attack on Pearl Harbor, Japan already occupied western China and French Indochina. There then followed the fall of Burma, Indonesia and the Philippines. What happened afterwards belongs to the history of World War II.’
He had come to the climax of his argument.
‘Just after having acquired its status as a great power, Japan inexorably developed a taste for imperialism.’
Sol Grant, the defence secretary, did not buy that argument, clever as it appeared.
‘So that’s how you draw the parallel between China and Japan? But that’s forgetting China’s opened up to the world back as far as 1842 and never adopted imperialistic policies!’
‘I’m afraid you’ve got your dates wrong, my friend! China’s opening does not date back to the Nanjing treaty of 1842, but back to 1979 when Deng Xiaoping launched the four axes of modernisation! And 30 years was the time for Japan to pass from the last shogun in 1867 to the conquest of Manchuria in 1895!’
This time, his logic was unassailable. Terrifying.
‘Do you mean to say China’s only at the beginning of its mutation and, if that’s the case, we’ve seen nothing yet – is that right?’
‘Exactly. I’m glad to see we’re in sync!’
‘And I suppose if we continue with your parallel, the worst is yet to come! Am I still with you there?’
‘You’re right on track…’
‘It’s the natural course of all nations! America too has its own living space in which it controls oil supplies and endeavours to contain the ambitions of potentially dangerous rivals. All hegemonic powers behave in this way, and China will be no exception! However, it must be owed to America that it never enslaved its allies but, quite the contrary, has always seen to their prosperity!’
‘But what makes you so convinced things will go bad with China?’
‘Because there’s something irrepressible with these people who endured for so long the straitjacket of rigid and archaic traditions. The West evolved over a gradual process, going from the Middle Ages to the Renaissance, from the Enlightenment to the Industrial Revolution, and now the age of information technology. By contrast, the brutal transition that jumps five centuries within the space of a generation never comes to anything good, as Japan has shown so horrifically. These countries enter modernity with a fresh backlog of frustration and resentment that fosters a feeling of aggressiveness. They all have a score to settle. They want to prove their strength. They thirst for respect and consideration that will wipe away the humiliation of having one day been dominated. All this puts them on the course to confrontation.’
‘So, according to you, China, just like Japan before it, will mark out its living space, or Lebensraum, to use the German term popularised by the third Reich?’
‘Japan pounced on its neighbours back in 1890, and China will do likewise, that’s glaringly obvious.’
‘And I suppose its living space matches the one defined by Japan in the Thirties!’
‘You’re absolutely right. Southeast Asia, i.e. all the ASEAN countries, plus those of the South China Sea, the West China Sea, Korea and Japan are called to gravitate around the empire of the middle and form part of its ecosystem. But it doesn’t stop there. You’ve got to add to this Asian sphere its oil supply sources in the Middle East, Africa, Central Asia and Russia.’
‘China and the United States are thus doomed to clash in all these theatres? Is it inevitable that these imperialistic powers should confront?’
‘I can’t see how we can avoid a spate of conflicts. China’s attitude leaves little room for doubt. They endeavour to become technologically autonomous to escape dependency on the West. They’ve already designated their next battlefield: space, by sending an astronaut into orbit.’
The defence secretary kept a close tabs on matters concerning space.
‘That’s true, China did indeed force us back into manned space missions.’
He could not help laughing as he recalled the NASA’s latest public relations campaign.
‘The space agency’s raving on about traces of water apparently found on Mars, hoping to stoke up public interest in space exploration! I must grant you that this revival of space exploration is due in a large part to China’s declared ambitions!’
‘That’s perfectly clear. It would be out of the question to let China be the sole player out there and given a free rein in the space colonisation game, even if it means pushing the stakes sky high. I would even go so far as to say that space rivalry could prove an excellent engine for our economic activities.’
But he was still not ready to concede the argument.
‘You’re a dyed-in-the-wool pessimist! Your mechanistic vision of history leaves hardly any room for the progress achieved by civilisation. So China’s awakening from a secular sleep and is inextricably bound to follow Japan’s belligerent path! And what if China were to surprise everyone by simply coming up with a new model? After all, it can draw from its 5000 years of history for experience and wisdom. At least you can give them credit for one thing: expansion has never been a word in their vocabulary!’
‘The image of a peaceful China withdrawn behind its Great Wall is a bit of a fairy tale. If we are to believe it, we have a peace-loving country that invented gunpowder only to make fireworks and the compass solely to navigate through the islands of the Pacific. If China doesn’t figure among the expansionist nations of the last centuries, believe you me, it’s only because it wasn’t able to. But the new perspective showing a prosperous China growing exponentially gives an altogether different picture. The ambition of today’s China relates more to the hordes of Mongol warrior’s than to the dozy placidity of the panda. The historical dialectic that pushes the Chinese authorities to lay claim without restraint on the island of Taiwan is – to put it mildly – a source of worry for its neighbours. Don’t forget that Chinese navigators of the ancient past and their pirates had, we now think, visited a big chunk of the South East Asian islands and, if we are to believe some, the West as far as Australia. Can you imagine if China, a colossus of 1.5 billion inhabitants, began to lay claim on Vietnam, Japan or Queensland, come to think of it? They even say their admiral Zheng He discovered America 80 years before Columbus!’
‘Aren’t you stretching it a little?’
‘And where do you think China’s gluttony will stop?’ asked one of the Pentagon’s geostrategic experts, a uniformed general.
‘Not at this planet, that’s for sure! The empire of the middle has already declared its interest for having men in space. We must now brace ourselves for an all-out war in space within the next 20 years. First, the Chinese will attempt to stymie our star wars anti-missile defence system, thereby putting American supremacy and its security shield into question.’
The general had his own opinion on the matter.
‘In any case, if the Chinese have such ambitions, they’d better hurry up building their launchers because they’ll soon won’t be able to all fit on this globe. If they are to have a future, it’ll be in space, and good luck to them. That country’s oversized, off-limits. There’s no place for China in this planet. It all boils down to this simple choice: it’s either us or them. That may be another way of seeing the policy of entrenchment of China – a measure to ensure the US’s long-term survival of its American way of life.’
‘China’s emergence as a world power will figure as the major change of the first quarter of the 21st century. The arrival of a giant of such scale will wreak havoc in the planet’s ecosystem and in the fabric of international relations. The Chinese are convinced the empire of the middle is the greatest of all civilisations and that it befalls on China to rule the world.’
The general was giving fuel to Nimoy’s arguments. The state secretary took over.
‘You see, the problem is that China wants to improve itself without clashes, smoothly, silkily. The Soviets invented the concept of ‘peaceful coexistence’ to define their relations with us. Well now the Chinese want to impose their ‘peaceful rise’. And if they imagine for one moment that we’ll let them go ahead with it without reacting, then they’re in for a big surprise. Gentlemen, we now have the ideal opportunity to implement our policy of entrenchment. We are going to show the rest of the world the real face of China and where its real place is.’
Somewhere in China.
Startled, the farm labourer stepped aside briskly from the track to let by the passing car as it ripped through the peaceful backdrop of surrounding paddy fields and rivulets patterned like veins, glimmering under the rising sun.
He spat out a string of curses at the intruding vehicle and then continued on his way, stepping slowly, his back arched forward under the heavy load it was carrying. The vehicle was already disappearing in a trail of dust.
‘Careful, Jin,’ said Tom, noticing the young woman was wavering.
‘Sorry Tom, my mind was drifting.’
‘It’d be a shame if something were to happen to us now. We’ve driven over 700 kilometres and no one appears to be bothering us.’
‘Yeah, but be prepared for some action, though. The last part of the journey will be on foot! Once we’ve crossed the Hangzhou river, we’ll have to avoid the towns of Ankang and Shiyan by following the winding road that leads to Daba Shan. Afterwards, we’ll have to abandon the car and go up nearly 1000 steps leading to a monastery.’
The car finally approached its stopping point. From the foot of the mountains where the young couple was standing, it was impossible to discern the steps zigzagging up the rock face. And yet they were right there before them. They abandoned their vehicle carefully out of sight and set off on the last leg of their journey.
The steps were scarcely more than a metre wide and, at one side, ended with a sheer drop. They stopped twice to take a few sips of water.
After a while, a Taoist monastery appeared above them, dominating the valley with its red walls, its glazed tile roof curving up at the corners in ancient Chinese architectural style.
‘Here we are, Tom, this is going to be our new hideout…’
But how long for?
Beijing, Ministry of Information Industries.
Bao Yutai was satisfied in the way the operations were turning out. The Chinese national operating system, or CNOS, had become something of an international star, even if the western media invariably used the term ‘bomb’ when referring to the Chinese exclusion Order. To Bao Yutai, that was just too bad. The Order had the merit of showing up Microsoft’s vulnerability to the rest of the world. The Redmond firm, when everything was weighed up, was in fact far more virtual than any Yahoo or Google. Commentators could always compare the ‘M bomb’ to an atom bomb or hydrogen bomb and argue that even if the former spared human lives, its destructive power was in fact far greater, and they could endlessly claim that this Order amounted to no less than an act of terrorism. But the fact was that they could not come to accept that China was a sovereign nation and, on that score, perfectly entitled to devise its own policies concerning information technology.
Version 1.0 the Chinese operating system was now launched, one week ahead of schedule. The only thing that bothered Bao Yutai was the decision to call it Linux. True, it was 100% compatible with the commercial distributions of Linux, but China was supplying a compiled and closed software system. It was never intended that the source code would one day be made open. In this respect, CNOS was more akin to a new Windows system than an open-source software!
Bao Yutai had all the more reason to rejoice that computer manufacturers and PC distributors had co-operated beyond all hope. It had even been quite unnecessary to fix ultimatums or deadline dates. All of China’s computer industries set themselves enthusiastically into the adventure of creating a national standard. Throughout China, CNOS-powered PCs could be picked up for 2000 yuans, excluding the monitor. The trend had been set and everyone was after their own CNOS computer.
The administration laid out very precise details on the means that would be implemented to make sure that all businesses and consumers fully complied with the measures. Private firms would be obliged to produce the invoices for updating their computer systems. There was even a requirement for company financial controllers to produce a certificate of compliance. As for home users, the administration called upon Internet access providers to check on their compliancy. Beyond a legally-fixed deadline, it would be impossible to have an Internet connection with a PC not running on CNOS. Only foreign firms would benefit from a temporary exemption upon written request.
More than a few countries were keenly interested in the Chinese experiment but preferred – at least initially – to remain discreet. China had nevertheless received favourable feedback from Brazil, Mexico, Russia, Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines, Thailand and Korea. That rallying was important for China, which needed to be the locomotive of a ‘new order in world computing’. Just as the astronaut Yang Liwei took the UN flag with him aboard the Chinese spacecraft, the Chinese nation wanted to be united behind the national computing standards to come.
To encourage such alliances, China organised forums and consortiums modelled on those created around Internet, ISOC, IETF or W3C. Their object was to standardise the public domain protocols and technologies used on the world-wide web, such as IP, TCP, HTTP, HTML, XML… These new scientific gatherings were intended to normalise functionalities of many software products, such as open source and General public license technologies. For instance, China had invited Microsoft to participate in a forum on the normalisation of office applications, modelled on W3C. The American giant of course did not deign to respond to the invitation. It also proposed to set up workgroups with international standards committees, including the world trade organisation, in view of harmonising digital rights management procedures.
Through all these initiatives, China appeared to impose itself firmly at the head of the international information technology liberalisation movement. This came about as a natural evolution: China accounted for one quarter of the world’s population and formed a coherent and self-consistent section of humanity.
It thus deemed it perfectly natural that it should decide on the standards that were to apply to its population, to its economy and – above all – to the planet as a whole. For isn’t it always the mightiest who make and apply the law? Besides, what did America, with its 300 million inhabitants, weigh against the insuperable mass of the Chinese people? Nothing, or so little. ‘Now it will be up to China to define industry standards’ Bao repeated to himself, ‘China must take over as the new Microsoft of world computing!’.
Beijing, main headquarters of the Central military commission
President Ren Zhibang made his way back to the command room of the Army’s main headquarters. There he found the commanders of the military commission, the chief of the political command, Army chiefs of staff, the prime Minister and a few members of the Central committee. They all looked grave.
Satellite images were showing intense activity all around Pearl Harbor. Several vessels had left their base in San Diego to join the two aircraft carriers stationed there. The Americans were mounting a naval task force to head for China. And then the news broke, straight from the mouth of the chief of staff:
‘Mr President, the Americans announced the sending of a fleet to the Sea of China in view of… in their own words…. maintaining the security and stability of the world economy.’ According to our intelligence reports, the fleet will leave Pearl Harbor on October 6, at dawn.’
The Chinese government had in fact anticipated such an initiative. It had been preparing for it, discreetly, for two months. The President took the news without batting an eyelid. He also knew that the United States had exerted very strong pressures without success on their allies in the region, especially South Korea and Taiwan, asking them to condemn China with a view to obtaining more decisive justifying grounds for their intervention in the eyes of the international community.
As for Tokyo, while opinion polls revealed that the Japanese were overwhelmingly against the idea of their country getting caught up in what amounted to be a commercial dispute between China and the USA, the Japanese government had towed the line of American policy. Japan summoned China to go back on its decision, failing which it would feel compelled to give its backing to America’s military pressure.
In brief, China’s diplomatic situation at the regional level was undermined by Japan’s position. Most of the Chinese military and Politburo members had grossly overestimated the sense of Asian solidarity and rallying to its cause. The let down was beginning to cause uncharacteristic agitation among a number of top Army brass, led by the chief of staff.
‘What do they expect to achieve with their vessels?’ exclaimed the latter. ‘Force us to consume their opium under the threat of sending their gunboats to bomb our ports?’
‘Gentlemen, let’s not give in to our emotions,’ advised the president, whose calm was unwavering. Our talk must be stripped of imagery that belongs to another century.
‘Our intelligence services have obtained a number of highly confidential documents coming from the Pentagon and the CIA. They all make systematic reference to ‘losing face’. Apparently, that’s America’s secret weapon against us! They figure they can play us into their hands by pressing on the sensitive button of national pride. So, for goodness sake, let’s steer well clear of this grotesque ploy.’
The President opened a docket placed before him and consulted some notes that contained precise information on the naval task force deployed by the United States.
‘We are gathered here this morning to decide on the future actions to take. Last week, we placed our armed forces on level 1 alert in response to the American threats. Should we now move up to maximum alert? An air-sea group is now heading towards the Sea of China. We know this force is composed of eight vessels, including the aircraft carrier Ronald Regan.’
A murmur of surprise and concern came from those present. The President watched them in silence.
‘Our strategists all agree that this task force could first reach Okinawa and then parade in the western part of the China Sea. It would then most likely head towards Taiwan in an attempt to shift the scope of the conflict and raise the tension by a notch or two. Our naval strategy experts believe it would be too risky for the US fleet to sail along the Straits of Taiwan – their vessels are spaced 50 km apart, which would force them to sail near our coast. Alternatively, the US fleet could make port in Taiwan, which would be an affront we’d be forced to react to. Which leads to the next question: how should we retaliate in the case of such an aggression? Finally, just how far will America go in setting their best fleet against us?’
The military commission’s chief of political command was the first to speak:
‘The Americans won’t start a world war to come to the aid of a firm that sells CD-ROMs and video game consoles. However patriotic the Americans may be, pressure from public opinion will blow any military adventure off the agenda.’
‘Commander,’ politely interjected Admiral Liang, the commission’s vice chairman, ‘Don’t forget the US is plunged in a deep financial crisis. They’ve received a humiliation as never before. Remember, too, that President Walker is staking his term and re-election on the show of strength to come. Admittedly, there are limits to what he can actually do. We still continue to believe that the US administration is not in a position to conduct an all-out war…’
The President looked on with an air of pity as the vice chairman battled with his self contradictions
‘These blasted military seemed to be losing their bottle now the American armada was getting within firing range,’ he thought. It was too late to give up, and too early to give in. There was no choice but to face up.
‘We must deal with this forthcoming military confrontation courageously and serenely. It’s a trial we have to face up to. But we’ll pull through it and come out strengthened,’ asserted Lin Rang, the chairman of the commission. His words received the immediate approbation of an uncharacteristically confident Prime Minister Wei.
‘The systemic crisis in the American economy is about to come,’ he explained. Our boycott served merely as a trigger. It is not the root cause of their action. Over the past three weeks, this viewpoint had been endorsed by many economists and a very influential part of the international press. China is already beginning to be overcoming the problems ailing the Americans. Time is definitely on our side. You’ll see that within a month, two at the most, they will all come to agree that our boycott was justified.’
President Ren took note of their expressions.
‘Gentlemen, I would like to keep the alert to level 1 for the time being. What are your feelings on this?’
The army chief of staff was the first to speak:
‘Mr President, I share your view. We must reserve our level of maximum alert for the events to come. It would also be wise to show our calm in the face of the oncoming American fleet. We know our actions are perfectly legitimate and that we cannot be held responsible for the disastrous situation of America’s economy.’
The president closed the docket and shifted it to the right, before reaching for a heavy folder. It was now the time to get to the heart of the problem. China would in a few days be confronting a mighty task force sent by the United States to make it surrender. Only then would the military commission know whether their optimistic scenario reflected the truth or not.
The atmosphere in the meeting room had turned heavy and grave. A waiter in military uniform whisked round among those present, pouring jasmine tea into the cups placed before each participant.
‘Gentlemen, the president continued, I brought you all here so that we can draft up a roadmap for the days and weeks to come to tackle the imminent threat. The time for idle speculation is over. Now, let’s begin. When do you expect the American fleet to arrive?’
With a sign of the head, the army chief of staff ordered the technicians in the background to switch on the video projector put at disposal.
‘The US task force is due to leave Pearl Harbour in the morning of October the 6th, according to a latest intelligence report. Assuming a maximum speed of 30 knots, we reckon they could reach of the Okinawa region within six days. However, some reports indicate that the aircraft carrier has not yet fully completed its nuclear reactor validation program. In this case, we think it will cruise at well below its top speed, and we would therefore expect to see it in the Sea of China around October 14 or 15th.’
A series of photos of the Ronald Reagan appeared on the screen.
‘What will the Americans do?’
The chief of staff made another sign to the video operator, and the screen then showed a map of the West China Sea.
‘We believe they will enter the Sea of China either from the north, between Okinawa and the Japanese island of Kyushu, or from the south of Okinawa. In either case, their fleet, which will be escorted by a tanker, should not encounter any logistical problems. It will always be able to rely on the US bases in Japan.
A passage from the south could give the following scenario: the fleet will head towards Taiwan, where it could land along the east coast, so avoiding the Straits. However, we do not consider this to be the most likely scenario. For a start, there is no recent event on the island that could justify an intervention by the US; Taiwan has repeatedly affirmed its vision of one China. While involving Taiwan would be the surest way of creating a head-on clash, such a strategy would come across as a totally fabricated pretext and be unanimously condemned. Moreover, Taiwan has shown absolute neutrality since the beginning of this affair, and the island has no intention of opening its ports to the American navy.’
He marked a pause to take a sip of tea and moved on to the following slide.
‘We in fact lean in favour of a different scenario. The American task force would penetrate the West China Sea from the south of Kyushu and, from there, head towards our coasts. Washington could then declare a blockade of Shanghai.’
His head turned to discern the expressions on each participant.
‘Such an action would offer the United States several advantages. Firstly, it would allow it to respond with an economic weapon to a likewise economic aggression. This retaliation would then have a mantle of legitimacy and be well perceived in the eyes of public opinion. Its resulting positive impact would confer the best pretext for engaging military hostilities. But the military commission has also envisaged a number of other scenarios that could also lead to this type of ‘provoked incident’. Here, I’m alluding to the tactic developed by Imperial Japan in the 1930s to set foot in Manchuria and the rest of China. That same tactic was also exploited by President Johnson in 1964. To justify America’s entering the Vietnam War, he set up a false attack – all entirely fabricated – that involved the assault on a US destroyer by a North Vietnamese gun boat in the Bay of Tonkin.’
The President interrupted – the possibility of a blockade of Shanghai appeared far more preoccupying and urgent.
‘What means do we have at disposal to counter a possible blockade of Shanghai?’
‘We are in an extremely tight situation. The presence of American frigates off our ports would deter cargo vessels from coming near. Our surface navy would not hold them back for long: the American detection and defence systems are technologically far superior to our own. To engage our destroyers and frigates into naval combat would amount to accepting to sacrifice them in the aim of placing ourselves as victims. Then we have our fleet of attack submarines. If we left the American fleet set up quarters in the West China Sea, they will install a network of sonar, frigates and submarines, effectively forming a barrier to our undersea vessels. Our submarine fleet would very quickly become powerless. We would then be left with no other option but to trigger off a military escalation, ultimately threatening to use our strategic missiles.’
The President and Prime Minister remained perfectly calm as they analysed the situation.
‘So, what would you suggest?’
‘Mr President, it is absolutely vital that we prevent the US task force from entering the West China Sea if we are to retain a reasonable chance of settling this conflict fairly and rationally.’
‘And how are we to proceed?’
The chief of staff turned towards Admiral Liang Dongbuo, the vice chairman of the Central military commission, who undertook to present the strategy they had elaborated.
‘Mr President, we have come to the following conclusion: if we are to put all the chances on our side when we confront the US fleet, we will need to impose a naval exclusion zone around China.’
He asked for the next slide to be projected.
‘We have traced out on this map a boundary line which the Americans must not cross, under penalty of triggering off hostilities. This position offers a number of advantages. Firstly, we are the ones with the initiative; we put the ball in their court. We no longer wait for the Americans to encircle Shanghai before reacting. It is we who fix the limits not to be broken. In the eyes of international opinion, China will be legitimate in protecting its territory against the threat of the American armada. If the United States decides to cross that line, then they will be the aggressors. This strategy moreover offers the tremendous advantage of preserving a volume of manoeuvre for our submarine fleet, giving us scope for covert missions.’
The President scrutinised the virtual boundary skirting the coast and which seemed to ward off the spectre of US warships encircling the port of Shanghai. It looked like a maritime form of the Great Wall, raised to protect the Celestial Empire from the Barbarians coming from the sea. He knew full well it was nothing more then a mere sketched contour on a map, but it had a reassuring and tranquilising effect. He needed that. It was the first positive element in the day, a flicker of light against the otherwise bleak background.
‘Gentlemen, this is an excellent proposal. Now, how far out we should place this exclusion zone?’
‘We would suggest adopting the norm that applies to the ‘economic exclusiveness zone’ endorsed by the United Nations regarding maritime rights, that is 200 miles.’
‘Does the line you have drawn correspond to this 200-mile coastal region?’
‘Yes, absolutely. The island of Okinawa is 600 km off our coasts and thus well outside the exclusion zone. On the other hand, the Straits of Taiwan are well within. The advantage of this particular choice is that the notion of a 200-mile region is already recognised and accepted by the international community. All countries around the world are deeply attached to this privilege. It would have a disastrous effect on the United States if it were to be seen contravening this right. It may only concern the economic exploitation of sea areas but, then again, the conflict that opposes us to the United States is rooted in economic matters too.’
The President turned towards the Prime Minister:
‘Let’s give some time for the American fleet to take an aggressive stance. As from October the eighth at zero hundred hours, China shall instigate a 200-mile-wide national exclusion zone applicable to all foreign sea and air military craft. Any violation of this exclusion zone shall be considered as a deliberate act of aggression against the People’s Republic of China.
A Taoist monastery
A sea of clouds was encircling the mountain as Tom and Jin gently rose from their slumber. For a week now their mornings had been moments of magic. Hardly a sound permeated their ears; the monastery seemed to be asleep, suspended in time.
They were totally swept by the kindness shown by the monks who hosted them. Such was their power of inspiration that Tom and Jin even asked to share in their life of prayer. They joined meditation sessions several times a day, and Tom was already beginning to discern unsuspected depths of his consciousness.
Some rays of light filtered through the gaps in the shutters of their large bedroom, projecting scintillating patterns on the uneven lines of the floorboards. The couple were lying face to face, a position they had kept throughout the night. And in their wakefulness, they enjoyed remaining thus, the face of one forming the foreground for the gaze of the other.
‘I had a dream this morning,’ announced Tom, stretching himself. ‘But the more I try to bring it to mind, the more it fades, blurs and goes away, like a sketch you make on the sand that gets washed up by successive waves. It seems that it’s my very effort to bring it to mind that in fact destroys it. My first perception of the dream flashes very clearly, but becomes elusive as soon as I try to seize it. It deteriorates a bit more each time I try, and I end up with a strange whiff of a fleeting experience.’
Jin continued to look at him, never tiring of that gentle face smiling at her.
‘It’s your unconscious mind playing tricks; it’s concealing the secrets revealed by your dreams. It puts them out of your reach because they’re too dangerous to be laid bare to your conscious mind.’
‘Give over, Jin… they’re only trivial little scenes…’
‘Don’t you believe that! The unconscious mind often disguises the deepest mental scars as childish images. Can you remember any of it?’
‘No, it’s really all gone. Just a few silly incoherent fragments. I can’t even recall what the dream was about.’
‘Can’t you even remember some of the main recurring themes of your dream?’
Tom made an effort to recollect. It was several minutes before he answered.
‘It seems that images of my father come in fairly often. I can’t explain why.’
She broke into a smile, a smile exuding tenderness.
‘Tom, when we get out of here, we’ll go to California together. You don’t know all the truth about your late father. Maybe you’ve kept some painful memories you’re trying to suppress…’
‘Maybe you’re right. But first of all, I’d like you to visit Scotland and England to meet my family out there!’
Jin suddenly turned silent. Her face froze, as if she had been struck by an unbearable thought.
When would they be able to leave? She had been keeping track of the events on the radio. Tensions between China and the United States had reached breaking point. They were talking of nothing but war, naval blockades and even nuclear strikes…
Northern Pacific, USS Ronald Reagan
October 8th. Daybreak.
The American task force was now on its way. ‘Here we go for three weeks or a month, maybe more,’ thought Mark Campbell, the officer in charge of transmissions aboard the aircraft carrier Ronald Reagan. He was no rookie. Like many of his fellow officers from the Naval Academy, he had taken part in recent combat missions for his country in Afghanistan and Iraq. And now he was embarking on the world’s most modern and formidable combat vessel, heading for a mission of intimidation, a show of strength before the largest country of the planet, China. The order to go on that mission came while he was carrying out equipment testing and deck landing exercises off Hawaii. The Navy had decided that the task of upholding America’s prestige would befall on this new flagship.
They all felt immense pride. It was a privilege to be part of their country’s greatness and technological superiority. Of course, other vessels like the Nimitz and the Abraham Lincoln had in the past taken part in war theatres and certainly had better references for fulfilling this mission. But rumour had it that it was the president himself who had insisted on calling in the Ronald Reagan.
They had taken on a number of highly experienced F-18 and S-3B Viking pilots, as well as the few Seahawk SH-60F submarine hunting helicopter pilots, provisionally transferred from the Nimitz and John C. Stennis. The navy chiefs were obviously taking no risks.
To an untrained observer scrutinising the sea, there’d be no way of guessing the presence of a task force. Indeed, its vessels were so far apart as to make any one of them invisible from the deck of another. They were like planets, seemingly lost and astray in outer space and yet mutually bound to form a solar system. And, playing the role of the sun around which gravitated the US naval deployment, was the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan, codenamed CVN76, the latest behemoth to come out of the Newport News shipbuilding dockyards.
The carrier’s motto was ‘peace through strength’, a message directed not only to potential enemies, but also to allies, reluctant friendly nations and to the rest of the world.
It summed up in a nutshell a complete doctrine applicable to all. The so-called pax Americana was to reign over the oceans, the seas and the continents… The United States left hardly any room for choice. The world had become a dangerous place, and anyone who was not on America’s side was automatically on the enemy’s. Woe betide anybody who does not take heed!
‘That’s the intention behind the motto’, thought Campbell. It bore an uncanny resemblance to the saying Theodore Roosevelt liked to repeat: ‘Speak softly and carry a big stick’, and which he himself borrowed from ancient West African folk wisdom.
And Theodore Roosevelt received the Nobel peace Prize during his presidency, from 1901 to 1909! But, inspired by the ideas popular to the Progressive Party, he had led the battle against trusts and giant monopolies, leading to the splitting up of Rockefeller’s Standard Oil in 1911. Ironically now, the USS Ronald Reagan, a big stick of 100 000 tonnes, was about to penetrate the Sea of China to protect the monopoly rights of one of the biggest stock market capitalisations, a giant that had survived all past attempts to break it up… Clearly, strength was no longer at the service of the same peace.
The Ronald Reagan was the ninth member of a family of aircraft carriers that began with the Nimitz, launched in 1972. But the new arrival featured a number of improvements, especially in its communications and arms systems.
It was a floating fortified island, 330 metres in length and almost 80 metres in breadth, as well as an underground city with 6000 sailors and airmen, and 80 aircraft, all housed beneath the top deck. The latter comprised two runways with a combined operational area of nearly 4.5 acres, mutually offset at an angle of 9.15°, leaving room in between for a command tower. The Ronald Reagan was equipped with two nuclear boilers that powered four turbine units, each one driving a respective five-blade propeller 7 metres in diameter. At full power, its speed was in excess of 30 knots.
It was escorted by seven other vessels, each ensuring its protection or supply. Together they formed the CSG, the Carrier Strike Group. The remoteness of the escort vessels was dictated by the nature of the threat. A missile cruising at mach 0.8 and fired at a range of 35 to 40 kilometres left a mere 30 seconds in which to react: precious little time. Hence the vital need to get very early warnings of imminent threats.
Foremost among these was the possibility of enemy submarines sneaking up close. To deal with this, an antisubmarine frigate was positioned some 40 kilometres astern. Two other vessels – a cruiser and a destroyer – protected the carrier’s flanks 70 kilometres on either side. Further astern, an S-3B Viking plane capable of dropping sonar buoys circled a zone some 200 to 300 kilometres back and created a highly effective acoustic barrier against submarines. About 200 kilometres ahead of the carrier were two anti-aircraft cruisers equipped with an Aegis radar system for detecting attacks from fighter planes. One of these cruisers could act as a watchdog, advancing further ahead to inspect a potentially dangerous zone. At the vanguard position were two attack type of nuclear submarines; they were the watchdogs for any enemy submarines.
The support for the carrier was further ensured by the combat air patrol, CAP, with two F-18E Hornets on constant patrol, 24 hours out of 24, describing wide orbits around the vessel. This gave the Ronald Reagan the power to react immediately to an aggression. Finally, radar coverage for the entire task force was provided by an E-2 Hawkeye plane.
Among the Ronald Reagan’s fleet of 80 aircraft were F-18 Hornet fighters, EA-6B Prowler radar-jamming and electronic warfare planes, S-3B Viking and E-2C Hawkeye airborne early warning (AEW) planes. The carrier also had a number of SH-60 Seahawk submarine killer helicopters.
Submarines were the aircraft carrier’s worse nightmare, but these helicopters were to submarines what the mongoose is to snake: a deadly enemy. And on the island of Okinawa, where Campbell had been posted for several years, the local inhabitants had imported mongooses to fight against the dreaded habu snake.
Like every other morning, Mark got up very early for his physical workout on the carrier’s deck with the other crew members. It was the only moment in the day when they could occupy that space, reckoned the most dangerous place in the world when, after sun-up, the flurry of aircraft becomes incessant.
He liked the freshness of these summer mornings in the Pacific, when the sky flared with vibrant hues of red and violet as the first rays of the sun ripped through the clouds.
Gathered in groups of 500 or 600 men, they performed their muscle warming and toning movements in strict unison, silhouetted against the semi darkness, floating on a huge pedestal alone in the middle of the ocean. They were like dancers of a ghostly corps de ballet performing on the moving stage of the world’s largest theatre.
Mark Campbell had returned to the officers’ mess for supper. He was greeted by George Foley, the second in command, whom he knew from previous missions.
‘These crossings can get pretty boring, don’t you think, George?’
‘I wouldn’t complain about it. In a couple of days, we’ll be hitting the exclusion zone the Chinese just set up, and then things could flare up real quick…’
They made their way to the table where some familiar faces were seated.
‘George, d’you happen to know anything about the strength of the Chinese navy?’ asked the machine officer who ignored everything about their enemy’s force.
‘Not much, I have to admit… but if you ask me, I’d rather have a confrontation now than in 10 or 15 years time. Because as far as I can make out, they’re arming themselves at an awesome speed. We’ll have to dig deep into our pockets if we want to preserve our superiority!
For years now, China’s been the world’s largest arms importer, buying most of its arms from Russia. Mind you, before you get alarmed, let me remind you that our defence budget is on the order of 400 billion dollars a year!’
His last phrase did little to reassure Mark Campbell.
‘What sort of planes do they have? Sukhois?’
‘On the latest count, their air force and navy have about 200 home-grown versions of the Sukhoi Su-27 and some Su-30 MK2s, which are attack aircraft fitted with supersonic anti-ship missiles…’
‘What about their ships?’ continued Mark Campbell, now visibly concerned.
‘In 2002, China began the construction of two new multi-mission 052B type stealth destroyers powered by Ukrainian-designed turbine engines. They’ll be equipped with Russian SA-N-12 antiship missiles and long-range radars, also of Russian origin. They also carry some pretty awesome antisubmarine weapon systems.’
‘Everything comes from Russia in that country!’
‘For the time being. By just importing, they can save themselves a lot of time; but the way technology transfers are going, it won’t be long before they’re autonomous on that front. China has also begun constructing two other destroyers under the designation 052C, based on the design and engines of the 052B stealth models. But they’re equipped with a 3D phase-array missile-guiding radar comparable to our Aegis system. These ships will take on board 48 vertical launch anti-aircraft missiles.
China also took delivery from Russia of four Sovremenny-class destroyers and placed an order for two additional ones.’
These particular vessels were their main focus of interest. They constituted the most serious threat to aircraft carriers that ventured into this region. Their eight MOSKIT SS-N-22 anti-ship missiles, known under the codename Sunburn, could carry either conventional or nuclear warheads.
They had a number of rocket-launching tubes for antisubmarine warfare, two Gadfly SA-N-7 ship-to-ship missiles, several torpedo launcher tubes and 30 mm cannons. These vessels could also carry an antisubmarine warfare helicopter. With these new ships, China was thus able to impose a total blockade of Taiwan and give any intervening naval force a hard time.
‘China also bought from the Russians some of their Squal type tornadoes. These travel seven times faster than classical torpedoes and are considered a big danger for US aircraft carriers. We also have to think about the Russian Yahont cruise missiles supposed to be installed on PLAN – that’s the People’s liberation Army-Navy – ships. They could be a real problem for our Aegis antisubmarine systems. Their speed exceeds 2500 kilometres per hour and they can strike targets up to 500 kilometres away with uncanny precision, making them a highly efficient anti-ship weapon.
It can be launched from an aircraft or even a submerged submarine, using its torpedo tubes.’
Submarines were the main danger the aircraft carrier had to face. They all knew it.
As regards submarines, China disposed of the Song class Yuanzheng vessels, or 039 under their reference, constructed at the Wuhan shipyards. They were among the most modern of their locally-built subs, manned by 10 officers and 50 sailors. Measuring 75 metres in length and 8.9 metres in diameter, they had a seven-pale propeller driven by an MTU shock-absorbing diesel-electric engine of German origin. They were equipped with YJ-82 (C-802) sea-skimming missiles, and had a top speed of 22 knots in submersion and 15 knots on the surface. But rumour had it that the sub was plagued with technical problems. Or at least that was the conclusion drawn when the Chinese later bought Russian Kilo class submarines.
The latest of the Kilos, the 636, were particularly silent and contained some of the finest examples of Russian technology, notably with their sonars and weapons systems. They were equipped with Novator Club S missile systems with a range of 288 kilometres. Four of these vessels had already entered service and China was investing in a further eight units for delivery in 2007.
They were especially intended to fight US aircraft carriers in case of conflict…
And China’s arsenal did not stop there. It had also hired some Typhoon class submarines with the aim of warding off any US military assistance to Taiwan in the event of a planned invasion of that island.
China had also taken delivery of two Russian Amur-class fourth-generation diesel-powered submarines intended to be constructed under licence at a Chinese shipyard. These vessels were even more silent than their conventional Kilo class counterparts.
As regards nuclear powered vessels, China’s 094 type strategic submarine posed a direct threat to the American territory.
It carried the JL-2 long-range nuclear inter-continental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) capable of striking any city inside the United States with their independently targetable multiple warheads.
The Julang-2, or JL-2 missile, known as the Great Wave in Chinese, had a theoretical range of 10 000 kilometres. Each of the 094-type submarines could carry 12 to 16 of these weapons. The Dongfeng-31, or DF-31 (East Wind in Chinese) had a range of 7000 kilometres and could carry in its payload a three-megaton H-bomb or three conventional 90-kiloton heads.
The 093-type attack nuclear submarine was able to carry long-range cruise missiles that could be launched in submersion. It was the Chinese version of the Russian Victor III submarine and constituted a threat not only to US aircraft carriers, but to all surface vessels.
These new Chinese submarines incorporated some sophisticated Russian technology, such as the latest generation of nuclear reactors and extremely silent propellers, making them considerably difficult to detect.
With these two new types of vessel, China henceforth had the capability of extending its control to all navigation routes, not only in the South and East China Seas, but also to those used for supplying raw materials to eastern Asia and Taiwan. This would make it considerably more difficult for the United States to station its ships in the Straits of Taiwan, just off the Chinese coast, as it did in 1996.
‘It’s kind of scary to see this sudden rise in military power.’
‘A strong China would indeed constitute an awesome potential threat to the United States towards 2015, possibly sooner.’
‘If China were to become a major regional force, it would more easily be able to draw Korea into its sphere, and even force Japan to bend and accommodate its oversized neighbour. Korea and Japan could then have to demand the closure of the US bases on their soil, whereupon we would be stripped of our presence in that region.’
And during all this time, the Europeans were straining every nerve to get the embargo against arms sales to China lifted, while the US was pushing it with all its might. To the United States, it was out of the question to envisage the possibility of seeing such advanced and highly threatening weapons come into the Chinese military stockpile, which was already deemed to be too rich.
The United States certainly possessed a clear military superiority, but for how much longer?
A book by JF SUSBIELLE – Translation by Dominic KING