The rule of the people, p.1
The Rule Of The People, p.1Christopher Read
THE RULE OF
BOOK THREE OF THE CONSPIRACY TRILOGY
THE RULE OF THE PEOPLE
Copyright © 2016 by Christopher Read
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems, without permission in writing from the author. The only exception is by a reviewer, who may quote short excerpts in a review.
This book is a work of fiction. All the names, characters, other entities, places and incidents portrayed in this novel are either products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, real-life entities, past or present, or actual incidents, is entirely coincidental.
The South China Sea
Map illustrating the various territorial claims, courtesy of www.southchinasea.org
Prologue – Thursday, November 10th
Chapter 1 – Friday, November 11th
Chapter 2 – Saturday, November 12th
Chapter 3 – Sunday, November 13th
Chapter 4 – Monday, November 14th
Chapter 5 – Tuesday, November 15th
Chapter 6 – Wednesday, November 16th
Chapter 7 – Thursday, November 17th
Chapter 8 – Friday, November 18th
Chapter 9 – Saturday, November 19th
Chapter 10 – Sunday, November 20th
Chapter 11- Monday, November 21st
Chapter 12 – Tuesday, November 22nd
Chapter 13 – Wednesday, November 23rd
Chapter 14 – Thursday, November 24th
Chapter 15 – Friday, November 25th
Chapter 16 – Saturday to Monday, November 26th to 28th
Map of the South China Sea
Prologue – Thursday, November 10th
Zhanjiang, China. – 16:36 Local Time; 08:36 UTC
Hypocrites, liars and opportunists: China’s near neighbours were finally showing their true nature, each prepared to do whatever was necessary to twist the truth in order to suit their own ends. It was a challenge China had neither asked for nor wanted, but if it was anticipated Beijing would shy away from the inevitable military confrontation then that would be a serious misjudgement and the Politburo was committed to defending its sovereign territory, whether that was an intractable region to the north or the island groups of the South China Sea.
Major-General Liang sat in the basement bunker of the Naval Command Centre, listening carefully as the Commander of China’s South Sea Fleet led a briefing on the latest military assessments, the Admiral’s combination of facts and suppositions producing a fairly unsatisfactory glimpse of what the immediate future might hold. An effective and experienced speaker, the Admiral’s outrage at those who condemned China was obvious to all, his fears rather more difficult to judge.
The greater part of the Admiral’s contempt was directed at the United States and the tactical display directly behind him revealed the U.S. Navy gathering its strength in the South China Sea with yet more vessels soon to arrive from Japan and Hawaii. Their intentions were unclear, the American Commander perhaps merely awaiting the order to attack and impatient for the White House to issue the command. The calming influence of diplomacy had definitely been abandoned for the time being and China’s Politburo seemed content to ride out the storm of accusations while preparing for the worst.
The financial cost of the accelerating crisis was already extreme, the Shanghai Composite Index down fourteen percent since Monday and the 2015/16 crash would be nothing compared to the turmoil a war – even a minor one – would bring. The Politburo had always managed to gloss over China’s many internal problems, a combination of sustained growth, increasing wealth and stability ensuring the silent majority had little cause to be anything other than compliant. Now that stability was under threat, the army likely to be needed to bolster the country’s internal security with every terrorist and dissident looking to take advantage.
China’s military command was led by the eleven men of the Central Military Commission (CMC), the President its chairman and Commander-in-Chief of China’s armed forces. General Liang’s position with the CMC’s Strategic Support Force meant he had a voice if not a vote at the recent crisis meetings and despite the posturing of the U.S. Navy, the Commission’s most immediate concern lay to the north, the Russian Bear finally unsheathing its claws. China’s north-west region of Xinjiang was already a hot-bed of dissent and nationalist tensions, thousands of Russian troops now poised to invade, their target Xinjiang’s oil and mineral wealth. A second Russian army was gathering strength to the north-east, between the cities of Khabarovsk and Vladivostok, ready to strike at China’s industrial base.
North, east and south: China’s enemies conspired together to subdue the dragon in their midst and Liang was well aware that it would be a struggle to defend the country from two or more separate threats. Yet Russia’s actions might still be nothing more than a diversion, the Kremlin perhaps content to wait whilst others – Vietnam or possibly even the Philippines – first tested China’s resolve. Vietnam’s mainly conscript army was certainly large enough to cause concern, as was its fleet of Russian-built attack submarines; to the south-east, the Philippines’ military forces might be relatively inconsequential but not so the two carrier strike groups from the United States.
Fear of China ran deep and how many more would be brave enough to throw in their lot with such an unstable and unwieldy coalition, its actions justified by nothing more than exaggeration and deceit? Intelligence suggested Australia might well be next, with South Korea and Taiwan – even Japan – nervously working out how best to respond while fearful that North Korea would then be forced into choosing China over Russia.
Like his naval counterpart, General Liang’s mood was also one of anger and frustration, his informal visit to Zhanjiang a way of ensuring the Admiral and his staff were fully committed to the difficult challenges ahead, whether real or simply exaggerated. The crisis had already seen scores killed and only the previous day Chinese and American fighters had traded missiles with four aircraft destroyed in a futile test of brinkmanship. Under different circumstances such over-enthusiasm could easily have merited a medal, maybe even a promotion; now each error of judgment merely pushed China closer to war.
Such acts were at least genuine mistakes, China accused of unprovoked attacks against two warships: one Vietnamese frigate sunk, the USS Milius damaged, no prior warnings given. The United States might have prevaricated in identifying those responsible, but others had been quick to blame both incidents on the Chinese submarine Taizong, the sonar evidence provided by the Americans and Vietnamese duly analysed and argued over, it all seeming to confirm their version of events. Yet the Taizong had been decommissioned earlier that year, the hull already broken up. Beijing had argued and ridiculed to no avail, and for many on the CMC it merely proved the existence of a US-led conspiracy with China the innocent victim, the collusion of China’s neighbours a truth that could no-longer be ignored. Russia too had been surprisingly quick to join the informal alliance against China, willing even to condone the shelling of its own people – anything to give Russia the excuse it needed to attack its neighbour.
Despite the turmoil of the past week, China’s political leaders still sensed an opportunity here, and control over three more of the Spratly Islands was considered a reasonable exchange for being a temporary outcast; it wasn’t just the strategic importance of the islands, the Politburo trusting that the natural resources hidden within the South China Sea would be a bounty worthy of some sacrifice. The political in-
If there was to be a war, then it would be one where neither side could actually achieve a decisive victory, the nuclear threat one that could never be completely ignored. The CMC’s strategy was thus based on the assumption China could simply wear its enemies down, superiority in numbers ensuring that any Russian or Vietnamese land assault would soon falter; the key struggle would then move three thousand kilometres south of Beijing to the waters surrounding the Paracel and Spratly Islands. There might perhaps not be a single explosive battle, it more likely a conflict of cut and thrust, a tit-for-tat series of clashes with everyone wary of it escalating out of control. The U.S. carrier strike group led by the Gerald R Ford would soon be joined in the South China Sea by the Ronald Reagan, either of the American carriers more than a match for their lone Chinese counterpart, the Liaoning. Beijing’s second and newest carrier remained in port, recent sea trials revealing an unhappy set of problems; yet China’s navy still had plenty of other cards to play, the submarine and missile threats potentially able to overwhelm a strike group’s defences.
Or at least that was the theory, a range of differing scenarios due to be analysed in more depth at the end of the briefing, the Admiral and his senior staff well aware that they would be held responsible for any serious mistakes or misunderstandings, with only one outcome likely from the subsequent court-martial.
Liang might be the CMC’s representative but he had a very different opinion as to the relative dangers facing his country. He had no naïve belief that China could cope for more than a few weeks with a war on two fronts, and their only hope would be to neutralise either Russia or the United States, and quickly; the CMC clearly underestimated the determination of those arrayed against China, its members persuaded into believing that America was soft and Russia corrupt.
Lulled into a false sense of security by the forces at its disposal, the ruling Politburo was impatient to show the world the true worth of Asia’s sole superpower. In another ten or twenty years the politicians’ arrogance might well be justified, but for now it was merely an idle boast, the consequences for China and its people likely to be nothing less than a disaster.
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