Yellow Peril, Yankee Macho
by Peter Barker
South China Morning Post
What is the likelihood that the mainland will invade Taiwan in the next fortnight or so? Highly likely, according to Chuck DeVore and Steven W Mosher, co-authors of the novel "China Attacks". The scenario in their ripping yarn: the People's Liberation Army launches the long-feared strike on its ``renegade province'' before the new, hard-line US president settles into office.
While that might sound a little shrill, the minute technical and military details in "China Attacks" leave little doubt in the reader's mind that mainland party bosses could do it if they wanted to. The big question is, why would they want to?
According to the novel, China could then use Taiwan as a stepping stone to control Asia. But as one of the novel's characters - a CIA analyst - points out, all the mainland has to do is wait for its economy to take off. ``By 2050, I'll bet they could buy America,'' he says.
No matter. Once the decision is made, years of planning and preparation swing into action. First it's the island of Quemoy, and then on to Taipei and three of Taiwan's major ports. The authors take us through a page-turning flurry of the point-counterpoint world of military invasion and international political brinkmanship.
It's a tale of courage, brutality, honour and betrayal, seen through the eyes of a Communist Party official, a PLA officer, a female CIA analyst and two senior US Marine officers, who accidentally blunder into the the invasion and set about trying to save the day, of course.
After getting off to a slow start setting up the five main characters, the authors reach their stride when the invasion begins. Historical, technical and military details are minute and realistic, lending credibility to much of the scenario, but leaving the reader sometimes feeling bombarded by acronyms and technical terms.
How do you get 10,000 airborne troops from the mainland to Taiwan when your air force is too outdated to get through the island's defences? Easy. Give each of the communist air transports a hang-glider with a motor-scooter engine that propels it at 140 kmh and head them south. And 20,000 more by sea? Fishing boats and even a Hong Kong ferry boat is pressed into service. Disable enemy troops without killing them, thus avoiding bad international PR? Why, you spread a genetically engineered flu virus around for a week before D-Day then spray LSD on those still well enough to get out of bed. There are some high-tech solutions too, such as stratospheric nuclear pulse bombs that disable communications systems, plus some sophisticated propaganda attacks on America. In the midst of all this, the action and horrors of battle by land, sea and air are breathtakingly portrayed.
Authors DeVore and Mosher are both well-qualified for the task.
Devore, a former Reagan-era Pentagon officer, is still a major in the US Army National Guard, specialising in combat intelligence. He is also a Republican Party central committee member and a staunch supporter of hard-line anti-China, pro-military politics.
The book's strongest area is its portrayal of the US Marines in action. This may be the result of DeVore's years of military background - or, it might just be because we are used to seeing these all-American good guys in Hollywood roles, from John Wayne to Forrest Gump.
By contrast, most of the Chinese characters in the story appear almost as caricatures. The China expert on the writing team is Mosher, a former US Navy officer. Fluent in Cantonese and Putonghua, he has studied China since the 1970s. Author of several non-fiction books about the country, he was one of the first Western social scientists allowed in to conduct post-revolutionary research. Beijing kicked him out some time later for publishing articles critical of the one-child policy and branded him ``an international spy'', a title he says he still relishes.
Mosher's last non-fiction book, about mainland politics and policies, Hegemon: China's Plan To Dominate Asia And The World, was one of Amazon.com's best-selling books on the country last year. It details Mosher's view of China's world view, a line of sight that constantly guides the plot in China Attacks. He believes mainland leaders think their nation is destined to become the world's sole superpower - its ``hegemon'' - and says the United States government is wrong to think China can ever evolve into a peaceful democracy without a collapse of its current political system.
Attempts to precipitate that collapse in the novel are led by the Falun Gong - a threat that recent events show is not totally discounted by Beijing.
While the factual and historical background of the novel is impressive, the authors fail to take Western readers inside the collective mainland consciousness and build a believable motive for risking the start of World War III. For this reason, China Attacks doesn't say as much about China as it does about the way right-wing America perceives the mainland. There are echoes of Cold War and Yellow Peril mentalities throughout the novel. And now, with the arrival of President George W Bush, similar thoughts will doubtless be heard in the White House hallways.