The rule of the people, p.42
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       The Rule Of The People, p.42

           Christopher Read

  Chapter 16 – Saturday to Monday, November 26th to 28th

  Beijing – Saturday, 21:26 Local Time; 13:26 UTC

  The meeting of the Politburo Standing Committee was quickly becoming an edgy affair, the reality of China’s problems – military, economic and domestic – well understood by most but still not all of its seven members, and the President was keen to emphasise that even with a peaceful resolution a sustained economic recession was virtually inevitable. America’s offer of peace had come with a list of conditions, with just enough positives for Beijing to give it serious consideration.

  General Liang sat in as a military adviser, his success in neutralising the Russian threat ensuring that his opinion was more highly regarded then he had anticipated. Asked to summarise the military situation, his evaluation was based not just on America’s actions over the past two weeks but the mood of its people and the words of its President. Deangelo had been steadfast in his defence of the Philippines, promises made and kept to, and America seemed utterly determined to force China to surrender its island conquests. The murders in Washington might have rid the Administration of two of its hardliners but the subsequent outcry had only strengthened Deangelo’s hand, and the likely appointment of a Republican as Vice-President merely underlined America’s resolute stance.

  China might still control several of the Spratly Islands but all were effectively at the mercy of the U.S. Navy and its strike groups, reprisals only increasing the likelihood that the Chinese mainland would be the next target. The tactic of involving North Korea could very easily backfire, Liang noting the looks of concern as he detailed Pyongyang’s military build-up close to the border with South Korea; most of North Korea’s submarine fleet had already set sail and the Sea of Japan could soon become a second region of conflict, it potentially far worse than anything yet seen in the South China Sea.

  The deal thrashed out in Kazakhstan had involved not just the three superpowers but the five other countries having some claim to the Paracel or Spratly Islands. The accord was more a set of principles than a definitive agreement and while it was never going to be ideal, President Zhao could still claim China had gained from it, the main selling point China’s undisputed sovereignty over the Paracel Islands, suitable guarantees given. The principle area of controversy had always lain with the concept of territorial waters and a compromise proposal of just five kilometres – the old ‘cannon shot’ rule – had been accepted by all parties, with the exclusive economic zone set at double that distance. Although subject to formal ratification via the United Nations, it was a simple way to cut through past arguments, offering a degree of territorial control without it becoming excessive.

  The status of the Spratly Islands was more complex, Beijing’s earlier agreement with Vietnam overturned. All islands, reefs, banks and shoals would be returned to their pre-crisis occupiers, further land reclamation by China and other claimants abandoned for a minimum of five years. The precise governance of the various islands and other features could then be argued out at a conference in February, any future agreement binding on all parties.

  It was a compromise the minor players would do well to accept: Malaysia effectively gaining by default, while the Philippines’ claims on the Spratly Group were now seen as equally valid to those of China; for Vietnam, it was potentially a better deal than earlier, Brunei bought off with a joint U.S.-China financial package. Taiwan had already shown its willingness to reach some mutually convenient settlement with its neighbour and America was now prepared to give its blessing, the benefits far outweighing any perceived disadvantage.

  Nor had General Morozov’s obligation to Liang been forgotten, Russia’s new president prepared to discuss the border situation without pre-conditions. Major Markova was once again on the move, this time to Beijing, her imminent arrival further confirmation as to her favoured status within Morozov’s inner circle. Liang might not yet fully trust the latest occupants of the Kremlin but Markova had already earned his respect and – if he were honest – a certain admiration. And without her persistence, who could say how it all would have ended?

  The evidence as to the origins of the Koschei remained contentious and it was proving counter-productive to force the issue; in a few months, once the dust had settled, Beijing could back-up its denials with a detailed account of the Koschei’s refit, perhaps even be able to reveal the names of its crew. Maybe then Morozov would find it in his interests to confirm the tale or more likely treat the Koschei as a rogue submarine, its captain once again a convenient scapegoat.

  The Kazakhstan talks had left certain other countries out in the cold, notably North and South Korea. Both were publicly voicing their anger at not being fully involved in the negotiations but they too would gain something from the deal, it clearly to everyone’s advantage – especially the three major powers – to make it work. The fact President Zhao was already preparing to fly to Pyongyang to secure North Korea’s support was clear proof as to his own personal commitment, no-one able to guarantee he would still be president by the time he landed back in Beijing.

  Peace and the hope for a return to prosperity were within touching distance, the few remaining doubters on the Politburo just needing to understand that there really was no other choice. Zhao was close to exhaustion, his well-honed skills of persuasion and intimidation being used to the full in order to save China from disaster.

  The meeting broke up just before midnight with the PSC split six to one in support of the accord. President Zhao insisted on it being unanimous, impressing the need to show the people of China that there were no dissenting voices. Early tomorrow the arguments would all start afresh and, one way or another, the President would have his unanimous vote, the mandate for peace now virtually assured.

  Washington, D.C. – Sunday, 19:44 Local Time; Monday 00:44 UTC

  Bob Deangelo sat in the Oval office, running through in his mind the words to his prime-time address, trying to make sure the earlier changes were exactly what he wanted. In the seventeen days of his presidency, he had taken his country to the edge of a brutal war, betrayed friends and set in motion the murder of his closest political ally. Dick Thorn might have been dismayed by Deangelo’s willingness to compromise but Yang Kyung-Jae’s dream of a sovereign Taiwan was about to be realised, the cost far less than any of them had ever imagined.

  Deangelo didn’t consider himself a tyrant; a realist maybe. His actions had undoubtedly brought personal gain but he could argue America was the stronger for it, Deangelo able to reaffirm America’s position as the dominant world power. The fact he had needed to manoeuvre his way to the top was no different to any presidential campaign, there always plenty of tears shed and a modicum of blood spilt; the principle of ‘the end justifying the means’ was a standard defence, accepted by history if not always the public, some presidents more successful than others at hiding their misdeeds. Thorn’s own betrayal had also proved the wisdom of using McDowell, Deangelo safe in the knowledge that while Jensen might well believe he was complicit, he had chosen to stay silent.

  Deangelo had been deeply impressed by Paul Jensen, seeing him as a truly honourable man, yet someone who was also prepared to put his own conscience on hold for the sake of his country. Jensen had never yet admitted as such but it was clear he well understood the intricacies of Deangelo’s complex involvement in the conspiracy and perhaps even Thorn’s murder. McDowell’s methods had certainly been more brutal than Deangelo had wanted or anticipated, every innocent life wasted one too many. Having started along that particular route it had been almost impossible to pull back and who better than McDowell to deal with an intractable Secretary of Defence.

  Earlier that morning, an emotional meeting of the Cabinet had been held, Jensen prepared to accept responsibility for not stopping McDowell and the deaths of his two Cabinet colleagues, his letter of resignation already written. Deangelo would have none of it and, unlike with Thorn, he truly had no ulterior motive in mind; Jensen had always been his first c
hoice as Secretary of Homeland Security and nothing that had happened since had changed that opinion.

  It was the same with Jack Shepard; Deangelo had picked the best man for the job and the fact he was a Republican was almost irrelevant. Shepard’s confirmation as Vice-President on the Saturday had gone as smoothly as anyone could have hoped, Congress still reeling from the death of Dick Thorn; the ring of FBI agents around the Capitol Building might have had some influence on the vote but it had become a time to put aside petty squabbles, the events of Friday once again proving the need for an unbroken presidential line of succession.

  In a rare show of equanimity and compassion – or was it guilt – the Senate had even unanimously confirmed Dick Thorn as Secretary of Defence, the applause at the vote rippling through the chamber. Pointless maybe and probably illegal but no-one seemed to care; despite everything that had happened, it was still a fitting recognition of Thorn’s past service.

  Democracy could be a fickle animal at best, America’s president and Congress not always working together as one, their own selfish needs often outweighing the needs of the nation. The conspiracy had simply redirected Senators and Representatives towards the acceptance of a more dynamic bipartisan leadership: Deangelo, Shepard, and Congress – each would now have a full part to play in maintaining America’s world role and superpower status.

  “Ten seconds, Mr President.”

  Deangelo took a deep breath and composed himself, wanting to sound sombre yet positive, the success of the Astana accord something to be proud of. Diplomacy was a difficult art, Deangelo needing to justify his actions at home while being careful not to be too outspoken against China, the ink on the formal agreement barely dry.

  “Good evening. Over the past month we have all seen how dangerous a world we live in, the missile and torpedo attacks in the South China Sea taking hundreds of innocent lives, families driven from their homes, the security of our nation and those of our allies under threat. The Philippines has been a staunch ally of the United States and in direct response to China’s assault on the Spratly Islands our Armed Forces have been engaged in a bitter struggle to reclaim the occupied reefs.

  “The sacrifice of our brave servicemen and women has been significant but it has not been in vain. The United States, the Philippines and the People’s Republic of China, together with other members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations have today reached agreement as to the principles regarding the governance of the Spratly Islands, specifically the sovereignty of its many reefs and shoals and the fair allocation of the region’s natural resources…”

  Deangelo tried not to make his statement too dry and factual, keeping to the basics while emphasising the key aspects; full details would be available online immediately after he had finished speaking and Deangelo wanted everything out in the open, the many positives of the agreement far outweighing the occasional negative. He was also very conscious of British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain’s ‘peace for our time’ speech following the Munich Agreement in 1938, Deangelo knowing that the inevitable comparisons would be made. However, this was not a package of appeasement by a pacifist head of government; America would maintain and expand its presence in the South China Sea, its commitment to the Philippines as strong as ever.

  With the external threat dealt with, Deangelo moved on to more personal matters. “In a difficult situation for our country, the enemies of our nation sought to take advantage, targeting the members of this Administration in the hope we would falter. Admiral Wade Adams and Secretary of Defence Dick Thorn gave their lives for their country, their service in the military and as part of two Administrations an example to us all. Nor should we forget that six of their protection detail were also murdered doing their duty, each one a tragic loss to the nation they loved.

  “The United States will not be deterred from doing what is just because of acts such as these and you can be assured that this Administration remains steadfast in its commitment to fight terrorism, whatever form it might take. With men such as Wade Adams and Dick Thorn we can and we will prevail.

  “Thank you. Good night and God bless these United States of America.”
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