By Lo Fung
For those who pay attention to the direction of Sino-US relations in the next decade are most worth reading are not the eight-page speech delivered by U.S. President Biden in Congress, but a book co-written by retired U.S. Navy Admiral James Stavridis and former intelligence officer and writer Elliot Ackerman, 2034: A Novel of the Next World War.
Let’s begin by talking about Biden’s speech. For one that marks a hundred days in office and a prospect for the next thousand days, the speech was worth seeing. Biden listed the achievements in fighting the epidemic and revitalizing the economy in the past 100 days, including getting more than 100 million people vaccinated with at least one dose of the Covid-19 vaccine, the rebounded economy and employment rate, and the strongest rebound in 40 years of the expected 6.4% of annual GDP growth, etc. Looking ahead, aside from the US$2 trillion poured into infrastructure, Biden is pushing out another US$2 trillion to support communities and families, and will increase taxation for top-income earners and the crackdown on tax evasion to finance subsidies for low- and middle- income earners. In other words, within three months of being in office, Biden has already announced the allocation of a rather large sum of US$4 trillion to revitalize the U.S. economy, infrastructure, technology, and social security. No wonder he compares his plan with Franklin D. Roosevelt’s during the Great Depression.
Biden’s eight-year plan is undoubtedly ambitious, but it depends on how much can be implemented and how far things can go under the full resistance of the Republican Party and the former President Trump. More importantly, his speech was mostly looking inward in a left-leaning or progressive direction of rebuilding the internal political, economic, and social order of the U.S. There is not much about looking outward. Even with the many mentions of China, there isn’t any actual direction or target except the emphasis that China is a major opponent, but both sides still have room for collaboration. It is difficult for the outside world to infer the direction of Biden’s China policy with a concept that is so trivially true.
The novel 2034 is different. It determines China as the enemy of the U.S. and begins with the story of how China is deliberately creating “traps” in the Mischief Reef in the South China Sea and has sunk a number of U.S. warships; it describes how China uses its military and technology, including stealth and cyber warfare technology, to quietly revolutionized and surpassed the U.S., successfully blocking the electronic equipment of the F-35 fighter jet and forces the American ace fighter jet to an urgent landing in Iran such that the U.S. must negotiate for the exchange with the Iranian government that it hated. Moreover, China also uses its military technological advantages to annihilate the main force of the U.S. Seventh Fleet, including two aircraft carriers and more than 30 warships. It has also successfully disabled parts of the U.S. power grid and the Internet, which comes as a surprise to the U.S. In the end, the U.S. has no option but to deploy small nuclear weapons to fight back, which almost triggered a global nuclear war.
With regards to diplomacy, China is equally proactive. By getting Russia and Iran on its side to start separate fires that kept the U.S. very busy. The latter’s NATO ally Poland is also harassed by the Russian army. Basically, the whole novel is full of crisis and filled with a sense of anxiety. The worry is that the U.S. will be unknowingly declining like the U.K. that dominated the Seven Seas in the 19th century and challenged and even overtaken by the new opponent – China. In the novel, the main battlegrounds are the South China Sea, the Taiwan Strait, and the Pacific Ocean.
Some say that 2034 is nothing but a novel, a fiction created by the author that is not to be taken too seriously. This saying comes from an ignorance of American politics and a neglect of the impact of popularization. First of all, in American popular cultures such as novels, movies, and TV shows, the only enemies being considered by the U.S. for a long time were Germany and the Soviet Union. After the disintegration of the Soviet Union in the 1990s, no similar “enemies” existed, and even aliens had to be considered. 2034 openly considers China as an enemy that is strong enough to destroy the U.S., which shows that it is not only the elites and opinion leaders who regard China as the number one enemy of the U.S., but even the general public and ordinary audiences do as well.
Equally important is that it is not any other person who wrote such a realistic “story”, but Jim Stavridis, who served in the Navy for 40 years as well as the Supreme Commander of NATO. Not only does he knows the military, he also has political connections and has served as a military analysis expert in major TV channels. He has a deep understanding of the international military and political situations. He disclosed the huge threat from China in the novel, which reflected not only a personal worry, but a shared worry among the U.S. military, military experts, and the intelligence community. What’s more is that the person who strongly promoted 2034 was Thomas Friedman, a well-known international relations expert. This journalist who wrote The World is Flat introduced this novel in his column in the New York Times a few days ago and linking recent Chinese military and diplomatic actions with the content of the book. He pointedly brought up the 25-year cooperation agreement between China and Iran, as well as the well-known fact that China has been friendly with Russia; in the novel, the three major powers join forces to bring trouble to the U.S., which is probably not a fictional plot but a fact that is literally happening. Friedman also reminded everybody that China is currently making huge efforts in developing the latest chip development technology, and has been wanting to pounce on Taiwan that already has the relevant technology figured out, so the chances of conflict between China and the U.S. in the South China Sea and the Taiwan Strait are greatly increased.
With all these elements added up, it is not difficult to see why the U.S. is increasingly cautious and anxious about the rise of China, and there is a consensus among the political elites and the general public that China is a huge enemy. If such suspicion and hostility cannot be reduced, no matter what Biden’s personal thoughts are, it will be difficult for the Chin-U.S. relations to return to a stable and mutually beneficial state before 2015.
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