The Rule Of The People, p.28Christopher Read
Chapter 11 – Monday, November 21st
Beijing – 11:20 Local Time; 03:20 UTC
The meeting of the Central Military Commission was proving to be another battle of pragmatism over political expectations, Liang leading the way, the problems facing them too extreme to allow the amateurs in the Politburo Standing Committee to dictate military strategy. Yet even the PSC were fully committed to reducing the number of enemies arrayed against China, the negotiations conducted under the aegis of Dagvyn Sharav progressing particularly well. Malaysia and – more importantly – Vietnam had been bought off with future promises, an official announcement due to be made at the United Nations later that day. In Vietnam’s case, it wasn’t exactly peace, more a mutually convenient cessation of hostilities, the politicians still keen to publicise such a morale-boosting feat.
Good news too in the north, Russia now having to cope with its own resurgent set of problems. China had spent billions to become a leader in cyber warfare, the blocking and falsifying of real-time data a basic requirement – just not normally carried out to aid one Russian general fight another. The vulnerability of the C4ISR system had effectively been a single-use weapon, Liang and his team forced to continually adapt and refine their strategy, disrupting the Armoured Brigade’s communications while re-interpreting certain key orders and visual feeds. China’s intelligence and cyber experts had earlier ensured a seventy-minute window for General Morozov’s overnight move to Narimanov, the transfer successfully kept hidden from Russia’s satellites.
The pretence of a staged withdrawal towards Astrakhan and the south had still needed to be maintained and close to twenty vehicles regarded as being too slow or unreliable had been sacrificed to achieve that end, thirty of Morozov’s men risking everything to portray twenty times that number; others had given their lives to delay the advance from Elista and along the east bank of the Volga. Even though the element of surprise had been total, for most of that Sunday the outcome could have gone either way, the power and speed of the helicopter gunships a major concern, and Morozov had only been truly safe once he had reached the outskirts of Volgograd.
Within hours the 20th Guards Army Group at Voronezh and two army bases in the Central Military District had declared for Morozov; there were also reports of skirmishes closer to Moscow but so far nothing to indicate President Golubeva had lost complete control and Russia’s military continued to posture north of Vladivostok. Nevertheless, for the time being at least, the threat from Russia appeared to have diminished, China’s interference just one more secret to be hidden away as an inconvenience. And in a world of the outrageous truth, few would believe it anyway.
North Korea certainly wouldn’t understand Beijing’s motives, the nature of China’s relationship with its mercurial neighbour varying from difficult to impossible. With China’s potential adversaries slowly decreasing, Pyongyang’s outpourings against America would likely become more extreme; somehow the Politburo would need to restrain Korea’s enthusiasm, unpredictability not that helpful when juggling several more pressing concerns. China’s various internal problems were no longer within Liang’s extended area of responsibility, others working hard to create harmony out of chaos. In Xinjiang that had partly been brought about by a heavy-handed crackdown on known dissidents and nationalists, success measured by a significant reduction in the number of terrorist attacks. Elsewhere – even Hong Kong – the attack on the Shanghai police had curtailed the peace protests to a more acceptable level, Liang not alone in assuming the real gunmen were actually under instructions from the Ministry of State Security.
America’s own contempt for the truth was clear from the Pentagon’s lies as to the origin of the doppelganger submarine. Several hours prior to the Pentagon statement, Chinese officials at the U.N. had met with their U.S. counterparts, Chavkin’s admission just one part of a package offered up as proof of China’s innocence. The blame had been put squarely on President Golubeva, the Politburo doing what it could to try and shield General Morozov; yet no attempt had been made by the Americans to seek any form of clarification, the wealth of detailed evidence simply ignored.
In retrospect, such blind trust in assuming Deangelo would want to know the truth had been a serious misjudgement and the Politburo had tarried too long in publicly revealing the nature of the Kremlin’s deceit. Now its impact would be blunted, the Americans evidently conspiring with Russia in order to keep the initiative, Deangelo as much an enemy to China as Golubeva. An exaggeration perhaps but Liang was angered by America’s show of arrogance, it revealing something of the new Administration’s more sinister motives.
Deangelo’s latest deadline was just over four hours away, the Politburo Standing Committee divided as to how best to respond, a minority doubting America would be prepared to chance hundreds of casualties. Would Deangelo really go to war over three insignificant islands in the South China Sea, their only link to America the occasional visit of a TV crew?
The rest of the world looked on and prayed for a speedy resolution, people’s fears increasing with each percentage fall in the stock markets. China was already paying a heavy price and the People’s Bank had been forced to step in with emergency measures, trading in hundreds of companies suspended early on Friday; additional restrictions had come into force at the start of business that morning, with many investors effectively blocked from being able to sell their shares.
Each such move merely increased the pressure on the Government. China’s business leaders and entrepreneurs had helped create an economic miracle and their key markets were rapidly drying up. Together they were far more influential than any protest movement and the Politburo was having to barter their support in return for future incentives. For those unwilling to co-operate, even senior figures, the Ministry of State Security had a well-established protocol to ensure a change of heart, opposition to the party line dealt with quickly and effectively.
Liang felt some of the same pressures, frustrated by the spurious arguments and exaggerations of those around him who couldn’t seem to comprehend the dangers of prevarication. For four hours the emergency meeting of the Central Military Commission debated and bickered, basically getting nowhere, still unable to equate the varying and complex demands of their political masters with the reality of America’s military power. The U.S. Navy had the resources to take whatever rocky outcrop it wanted and somehow the CMC would have to calculate the most effective riposte: too weak and the Politburo would regard them as nothing more than cowards; too harsh and the chance of an acceptable compromise might be lost forever.
Washington, D.C. – 12:32 Local Time; 17:32 UTC
Anderson had managed to get on a morning tour of the Capitol, embarrassed to admit that he’d never actually visited it before. Normally he hated organised tours, preferring to go at his own pace, but the young guide was entertaining and knowledgeable, coping well with the usual raft of questions and happy to explain the logic behind the Senate’s ongoing pro forma sessions.
Anderson used his camera to the full while trying not to make it obvious he was equally interested in the various layers of security. The physical checks were verging on the laborious, Anderson sensing they were taking even more care than usual and there were plenty of Capitol Police in evidence. Security outside was also tight, with a fair smattering of FBI uniforms in view. Such arrangements might stop McDowell but not the 82nd Airborne, Anderson curious as to whether the heightened security was in direct response to what Carter had implied. Professor Nash had in turn been interviewed at length by the FBI, their warning that he should say nothing of their visit to Anderson ignored after barely an hour.
With Deangelo’s one o’clock deadline having expired, Anderson had anticipated the South China Sea would soon become the main news topic of the day but the headlines were all related to events much closer to home, the majority centred firmly on Congress itself.
In a compromise deal thrashed out between senior members of the two parties, Congress would hold a joint
For everyone it looked to be a fair solution, ending the complex machinations of the House of Representatives while ensuring America at least had a chance of a well-understood presidential line of succession. It would doubtless make for a lively one or two days in Congress, those members due to retire or having lost their seats likely to want a final chance in the limelight, the Democrats keen to get their teeth into Shepard.
The mood of optimism quickly changed as the afternoon progressed, the frustrations and political differences between the two parties boiling over into a public display of intransigence, any promises made definitely not agreed to by all. In part the antagonism had been encouraged by yet more online revelations, copies of recent emails posted to prove that Congress was perhaps no closer to making life easy for its President.
It was a familiar tale of two-party rivalry. Some Republicans were desperate to ensure Dick Thorn would never be confirmed as Secretary of Defence and even if the President eventually tried to used his executive powers, they would do all that they could to block it; if necessary, some were fully prepared to try and force through additional pro forma sessions well beyond the New Year, thus leaving Deangelo with little choice but to nominate someone more acceptable.
Several Democrats were sympathetic to that point of view, even ready to abstain when it came to a vote. Yet Thorn wasn’t entirely without friends and they were similarly unwilling to accept Shepard as Vice-President without something in return – and for the time being the Democrats had a majority in the Senate. In the present state of nervous anticipation over events in the South China Sea, Deangelo might have hoped to push through Shepard’s confirmation without too much controversy, but that now looked to be unlikely.
The President’s attempts to form a stable and effective Administration were falling at the first hurdle, the earlier agreement now jeopardised by the strong opinions revealed in the emails. Anderson had instantly assumed the revelations were down to Carter, some of the emails no doubt genuine, others possibly nothing more than a figment of McDowell’s vivid imagination. The media might consider it newsworthy to see members of Congress fighting amongst themselves but for once the wider reaction was relatively muted, people becoming bored with a daily dose of outrage, their thoughts now more focused on Thanksgiving and Christmas.
Not so the protestors camped out in the National Mall, and Anderson sat and watched as they responded in typical fashion, the loudspeakers booming out in exasperation at those closeted in the Capitol. Sadly, few of their target audience would actually be listening, the handful still there busy rearranging their travel schedules to fit in with a truncated recess. The police simply stood and watched, either under orders to do nothing or unwilling to get involved.
Democracy might literally mean the rule of the people but for many in America, Congress no longer seemed to be part of that political union. Certainly as far as those in the Mall were concerned, it was time for a clean break from those on Capitol Hill and their dubious morals. The public clamour for change that had resulted in President Cavanagh’s demise had clearly gone unanswered and now there was no unpopular President to divert people’s attention away from an equally unpopular Congress. The latter’s apparent dislike of Dick Thorn had only made matters worse, no-one now sure what was happening come Friday: one minute Thorn was being told the Senate would definitely confirm him as Secretary of Defence, the next it was once again all up in the air. How long would it be before he lost patience and decided to take matters into his own hands?
By the time Anderson returned to the Holiday Inn, the problems of the South China Sea were finally re-asserting themselves to provide a suitable distraction from the problems of Congress. With three of the Spratly Islands still waiting to be liberated, Deangelo’s rhetoric had turned the world’s focus towards the United Nations and its feverish attempts to broker a peace. China too had been busy on the diplomatic front, a shambolic press conference publicly illustrating the disarray that existed even within America’s supposed allies.
Vietnam had become the first to break ranks when their ambassador to the U.N. formally announced the immediate cessation of hostilities with China and the ending of its support for the maritime exclusion zone. Seconds later his colleague from Malaysia was interrupted mid-statement by one of his aides and literally pulled from the podium. After several minutes, a slightly dishevelled ambassador returned to affirm that Malaysia had no intention of abandoning its just and rightful claim to any territory within the Spratly Islands.
Vietnam wasn’t the only country struggling to make sense of what was happening, China’s representatives barely able to hold back their anger. Soon after had come the latest reports from Moscow, the city on lockdown with armed troops once more patrolling the streets, tanks stationed outside the Kremlin. President Golubeva had seemed impregnable but that was obviously just an illusion, the Russian military apparently divided as to their loyalty.
Despite the setback with Malaysia, China was cleverly managing to make headway in curtailing the number of its potential foes. Now the U.S. Congress needed to do the same, its future very much in its own hands. President Cavanagh had survived barely a week once the knives were out, and the 535 Senators and Representatives would be well advised to at least try and learn from his mistakes. If not, then the white shapes floating down from out of the night sky might well be more than just snowflakes.
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