The Chinese Premier had learnt how to handle unexpected phone calls from the US President. Typically his American opposite asked him to address the vast difference in their balance of trade, to let the yuan appreciate or to do something about Chinese protectionism. Or, most tiresome of all, he would lecture him about human rights like he was addressing the White House press gallery in public and not the Chinese Premier in private.

The premier would listen politely, promise to look into it – and then, just like the Japanese had done with the Americans decades before, when they were at the height of their powers, do nothing. He wasn’t about to hamstring China for winning at a game that the Americans themselves had help create. The Americans had forgotten one of the rules of international diplomacy: never ask for something you don’t have the strength to take.

The latest G20 summit, where the heads of Europe had offered him and China’s money a rock star welcome while the US President sat fuming on the sidelines, should have told the Americans everything they needed to know about the new global realpolitik.
Yet it was with great alarm that he heard the president rage about the presence of biological weapons of mass destruction on American soil. Worse, that he had proof of Chinese involvement in bringing them to the States, and plans to detonate them. The furious president said that if even one went off he would hold China responsible, and he couldn’t guarantee what would happen next. America had invaded Iraq on the strength of suspected weapons of mass destruction. They were stone-cold paranoid about WMDs. If they had proof of real ones on US soil …

Now coldly angry, both at the threat and the idea that someone had planned this attack behind his back – he would never have authorised something like this during China’s catch-up phase – the premier promised he would do everything in his power to assist the president. That as soon as he got off the phone he would launch an immediate investigation, starting with the background of the assailant that had been caught, now dead. (Did the Americans torture him to death, he wondered.) He would send some of his best men to assist in the investigation. The premier offered the US President China’s full co-operation, and he meant it. The president said he’d phone again soon and that he hoped they could avert catastrophe together.

When the call was ended, the Chinese Premier slammed his fist on his desk. He did not need this kind of headache. He did not want any disruption to the status quo, anything that might make the people restive and question their leaders. He did not want an Arab Spring sweeping his country, where the West hypocritically turned on its former partners and installed new leaders. The lesson of Colonel Gaddafi, that strutting buffoon, was that any country without weapons of mass destruction could be invaded and overthrown by the West. China would never make that mistake. Its leaders would never allow themselves to be pulled out of a drain pipe and shot in the head by rebels like the late Libyan dictator. They would not die suspiciously of “exhaustion” on military trains like the late Kim Jong-il. There would be no Chinese Spring.

He knew that some of his generals had talked about war with America – seemingly welcomed it, even, yearning to embrace China’s glorious military heritage. The military was always pushing the civilian establishment, jostling for position, seeing how far it could go and how much ground it could win from the soft civilians. The premier knew how the military thought: they viewed politicians as weak, corruptible. Yet the premier and his cohorts were far from weak. And corruption was a country-wide problem, from the lowest villager to the most powerful general.

The Communist Party as a principle was firmly against such a war with the US. Not until China’s economy rivalled America’s, along with its army, would they consider such a step. And it wouldn’t be a full-scale war: more like a lesson. Such as seizing the recalcitrant Taiwan and fending off the inevitable US response. Or discouraging American warships in Asia with patrols of their own. No, with trillions of Chinese yuan pumped into the US economy and millions of Chinese working in factories making products to sell to the US, China didn’t want to destroy the US. You don’t destroy your best customer. But China did hope to supplant it, in Asia, in Europe, in Africa.

The Chinese Premier picked up the phone. “Get me everyone,” he said.

Continue reading with The Spartan, out now as an ebook. Then keep reading with the sequel, Game Of Killers: The Spartan, out now as an ebook and paperback.


I shouldn’t be doing this, thought Colonel Garin, as he walked the grim streets of New York.

As Homeland Security’s top troubleshooter, with extensive connections to the army and its special forces programs, there were a thousand other pressing things that demanded his highly-paid attention.

After all, America was still reeling from the aftermath of the plague delivered by China’s canister conspiracists. The worst of it was now over, the noxious spread of the plague on US soil halted, but the American death toll was in the unknown millions. Just about everyone knew of someone who had died. The country was one race, color and creed united under fear.

And violence.

America’s cities and suburbs had become war zones, its suspicious, scared residents becoming paranoid and hostile after rumours that those taken to “quarantine zones” were never making it out alive. Thus once-compliant keyboard warriors and soccer moms were fighting the police tooth and nail in the streets. Molotov cocktails crashed against plastic shields. Riots that made Watts and LA look like bonfire parties were breaking out in all the major cities. Many areas had become or remained W.R.O.L – Without Rule Of Law.

If truth was the first casualty of conflict, then innocent civilians were the second, with law enforcement officials coming a close third.

Many police officers died.

Looters roamed the streets. Snipers were exercising their Second Amendment rights by shooting down news helicopters.

Up was down. Black was white. One and one made three.

The only disaster missing was a Sharknado.

“It’s chaos out there,” Garin said aloud, causing nervous citizens on the streets of once-fair Gotham to avoid him.

The authorities were doing the best that they could, but the United States hadn’t experienced this level of disruption and paranoia since the Spanish Flu epidemic of 1918, which killed more than 3 per cent of the world.

The main difference now in the current age of entitlement was that, half the country was heavily armed and had access to the still-functioning internet, listening to every crank and tin-foil hatter claiming that the government had released the plague on purpose. Some citizens had even refused to take the cure, holding up siege-style in their houses, thoughtfully infecting all their loved ones in the process.

Many called for war against China for its part in the plague – sometime just had to take a major hit after the death toll in America. The only reason that the stealth bombers weren’t already fuelled and dropping the Mother Of All Bombs on Beijing was because China had suffered just like America, and the canister conspiracists had been rogue agents rather than state-sanctioned operatives.

So, in fact, the only folks happy with the situation – apart from the one per cent of the population who were psychopaths, who thought all their Christmases had come at once and were busy bringing their darkest fantasies to life – were the doomsday preppers eating tinned meat and hoarding toilet paper in their bunkers. They could finally point one Nomex-gloved finger at the liberal media and say “I told you so”, their paranoid choice of lifestyle vindicated at last.

The country had had, to use the Chinese phrase, to chi ku: to eat bitterness. And after pampered years as the world’s lone superpower, the United States neither had the taste or the stomach for much bitterness.

Then there was the rest of the world. The world had changed. And not for the better.

The global economy was in the crapper: to quote Garin’s son Robbie, the craven investment banker and economic hit man, fruit of his loins if not his soul, “Wall Street can’t make any money in this environment!”

“Damn punk kid,” Garin muttered.

China was holding Japan’s ships vessels hostage for “reparation for World War II crimes”, while ramming Vietnamese vessels in the South China Sea. It was also taking advantage of the world’s distracted state to build what was being called “The Great Wall Of Sand” in the South China Sea, claiming as much territory as it could despite the objections of its neighbors. If the world had had any lingering doubts about how China posed an existential threat to the current global order, such doubts had now vanished.

Meanwhile, Japan was making ominous noises about rewriting its post-World War II constitution so it could re-arm itself. It had rushed through bills allowing its soldiers to fight overseas for the first time since 1945. Japanese and Chinese fighter jets were flying so close to each other in the South China Sea they were colliding mid-air.

North Korea sensed weakness and was launching probing attacks on its border with South Korea.

Africa was divided along tribal, religious and economic lines.

The Germans ran Europe again.

The Middle East was its usual mess.

Taiwan remained occupied by the People’s Liberation Army. Hong Kong? Well, everyone knew what had happened there.

Meanwhile, the UN was left holding its various multinational dicks in its hands.

Among its allies, America’s impotence in allowing the tragedy to happen was noted, its status as the world’s sheriff in question.

More and more people were saying the world had gone from a unipolar world dominated by Uncle Sam to an unstable bipolar world where it had to share power with China: a development viewed with suspicion and fear by many.

In the face of all this, Washington was paralysed with indecision, partisanship and horror. Barbed wire was everywhere in the homeland, like some Martian weed, as if to suggest that the country was undergoing some horrible transformation.

In short, it was a darker world. A darker America.

Garin watched as a homeless man screamed incoherently to himself on a street corner, trying to ward off some invisible evil.

“I know how you feel, pal,” Garin thought.

He was reminded of a quote from his more religious days: “Outside the church there is no salvation.” But Garin was not about to get down on his knees and start reciting the 23rd Psalm. He wouldn’t cry or scream or pray to the Lord, the Sky Father or even Oprah. That was not his way. That was the not the special forces way.

And as they liked to say in special forces: the only easy day was yesterday.

Game Of Killers: The Spartan is available now on Amazon as a hardback or ebook. You can also see how we got here in the first novel, The Spartan.

Chen loved his country. He loved China’s glittering past, its refusal to bend down to the great powers, its promise of a better future.
But if there was one thing Chen didn’t love, it was his job.
That’s because he was a wumao.
And he was one of the best.
Chen had been compelled to become one of China’s wumao – one of its anonymous, government-sponsored army of internet commentators and trolls – when his father in China had been found guilty of a minor indiscretion. The indiscretion itself, which Chen didn’t like to think about, was minor enough that it didn’t land his father in jail … but significant enough that it required some act of contrition on the part of his family.
It had been suggested that Chen, educated at Harvard and earning a six-figure salary on Wall Street, may be able to pay off his debt. There was desperate need for a wumao who could successfully promote China’s interests on the internet in the West. The domestic wumao market in China was already covered – what was needed was someone who was savvy enough about the West to successfully comment on Western websites without automatically being accused of being a wumao.
Because to be caught acting as a wumao was the worst thing that could befall one.
Thus Chen had been called back to one of China’s more distant provinces to work in a dank computer room with the other pro-government commentators. His skill as a wumao meant that he was acting No.2 of his department. He was currently writing a style guide for his fellow wumao on how to work in the West.
It wasn’t his colleagues’ fault that they weren’t educated in the West like him and didn’t fully understand how “freedom of the press” worked there. They didn’t understand the syntax, the grammar, the cultural references, the idioms of the West. That was why many were caught out when commenting on newspaper or magazine websites, sometimes by Chinese students overseas themselves. Their clumsy approach – for instance, getting a Simpsons reference or a sports observation wrong – often led for them to be outed as wumao. Under Chen’s guidance, they were doing better … but there was still much work to be done.
One of the problems Chen had with his job was the pay. Indeed, the saying about wumao being the 50 Cent Army – that they were paid 50 Chinese cents a post – wasn’t exactly far from the mark. It was certainly a lot less than what he earned on Wall Street. Plus where he was sent had no decent nightclubs, cafes or restaurants … another hardship he had to silently endure.
Then there was the work, which he felt was slightly beneath him. He wasn’t matching wits with the great minds of the West on the internet sites. Their great minds were busy occupied elsewhere, perhaps writing the article themselves above the comment section boxes. Or they had better things to do than comment on internet sites. His adversaries were overwhelmingly men of middling education with too much time on their hands and too much fondness for their own opinions. “Keyboard warriors”.
That wasn’t to say that the work itself didn’t have its rewards. Chen liked to pride himself in the skill he brought to the task. Educated in the West, he understood the nuances of the culture. He understood that, although the West often complained about Communist Party propaganda, Westerners existed in a world of propaganda of their own. Only the West’s propaganda was more invisible, more subtle … and more professional. It had entire multi-billion-dollar industries devoted to selling messages without the targets knowing they were being targeted. What was called wumao in the East could just have easily have been called “PR” in the West.
Indeed, two of the books he encouraged his staff to read were Confessions Of An Advertising Man and How To Win Friends And Influence People, both fine guides on how to win over the Western mind.
(Chen sometimes wondered if it might not be more effective to outsource the entire wumao department to the West. The cost could be greater, but the results more convincing. And there would be many, many companies in the West that would accept such work.)
Working as a wumao in the West required a different mindset than, say, working in China. One had to seem more “friendly” … more flexible. More ready to abandon an argument than risk being seen as “uncool”.
In Chen’s mind, comments were to be kept short and to the point. Upper case was never to be used, upper case being the province of the unbalanced. One should never be the first to post on any given subject – being overkeen was suspicious.
Comments should never be too rigid or dogmatic … or too numerous. Sometimes he had to tap a colleague on the shoulder to step away from a computer and a conversation when they became too angry and risked being identified.
In short, their comments were supposed to seem like they came from Westerners themselves.
Chen often used a Western-sounding handle – he had several, in fact. He knew when to back off, when to respond to an argument with a jokey image or meme. Humour was very effective in winning an internet argument. And it was something Westerners didn’t expect from the “humourless” Chinese.
They all had certain key points they were supposed to push. Fortunately, China had a great story to sell. What other country had lifted so many millions out of poverty in so short a time? What other country had given the world gunpowder, porcelain and printing? What country came to the world’s rescue during the 2008 global economic meltdown? China had many, many positive aspects one could casually drop into a net conversion.
Certainly his department had an easier job of it than their Russian counterparts.
But Chen’s true enemy wasn’t the West: he had liked living there and thought China could forge a working relationship with it. And China and America were so interlinked they were calling the combined being “Chimerica”.
No, his true enemy was his boss.
Because he wanted to return to his former life as a banker. And he had no idea how long his penance was supposed to be.
Thus he had begun his own campaign. He would submit small errors in his entries. Perhaps a comment might not be fervent or patriotic enough. Or a joke might seem too Western. Perhaps he would go soft when he should go hard, go slow when he needed to address a trending topic immediately. Perhaps he would even allow himself to be unmasked online as a wumao. As they would say in the West … “whoops”.
He would be moved on.
And finally he would be free.

My ebook military thriller, Game Of Killers, is out now on Amazon.