china world

At the start of 2001, the twin towers stood confidently in lower Manhattan, Iraq was languishing in the back of the news pages (Afganistan was out of sight and out of mind) and Bush-the-younger could still get away with calling himself a “uniter, not a divider.”

The clearly-starting-to-teeter US economy was the main source of domestic anxiety, and our foreign policy was heavily focused on China.

Now Iraq, and the war on terror, have stolen the headlines for over three years. But our appetite for this is starting to wane, and the press is starting to look beyond the Middle East once again.

The May 9 issue of Newsweek featured the special report, China’s Century as its cover story. Around the same time, the June issue of the Atlantic Monthly hit newsstands, featuring the provocative headline, “How We Would Fight China” and a serious-looking chinese sailor on its cover.

The two reports make good companion pieces.

The centerpiece of the Newsweek report is Fareed Zakaria’s, Does the Future Belong to China? It’s a lightweight (well it’s Newsweek, so yeah) survey of the obvious, but still an interesting read. It spins post-1979 China as the remarkable result of nuanced and carefully-planned reforms carried out by leaders who smartly shifted Chinese policy away from communism without damaging Maoist nationalism.

The two pieces in the Atlantic are a little gloomier, as suggested by the cover headline. They focus on the chess (or go?) match an asian cold war would surely be, characterized by naval standoffs, mid-air confrontations and diplomatic catfights.

I began to imagine the plot of a war satire set fifteen years from now. Our next president, in his (or her?) second term, decides to respond to one embarassing standoff or another – and also put a halt to China’s rapidly-improving military capabilities – by waging a preemtive war. We’re several years into it, in the story I imagine, and it’s looking more and more like a stalemate.

Perhaps we’ve taken Shanghai and even Hong Kong – with the help of Japan, Australia and Singapore, but Europe has abandoned us, and the support of Singapore and the Aussies is starting to look pretty shaky.

At home in the US, things are more polarized than ever. California might as well be its own country.

On the ground in China, our troops don’t like what it feels like to be the agressors on foreign soil.

That’s the backdrop. Now I have to come up with a story.