The year is 2012. In Taiwan, a charismatic new leader named Yo Tuan occupies the Presidential Office — and he is filled with ambition to make his county independent. Across the strait, president Hu Jintao (胡錦濤) has been replaced by Wei Ching-chun, an inexperienced and somewhat stoic leader whose ability to steer the Chinese Community Party (CCP) remains unproven. In Washington, President Jocelyn Adams, an African-American woman, succeeded George W. Bush in 2008 and is seeking reelection in a country weighed down by the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and severe water shortages that are threatening to create domestic instability.
Thus opens Cooper’s novel, with the added threat of a Mayan prophecy that appears to predict the end of the world on Dec. 21, 2012, due to a polar shift. Hit by scandals — the nail in the coffin exposed by an investigative reporter at your very own Taipei Times — the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) government that replaced Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) in 2008 has been ousted by the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), whose leader, Yo Tuan, is portrayed as a Chen on steroids, a man with an almost supernatural ability to fire up his supporters. Riding on the backlash against the KMT, a majority in the legislature and led by a firebrand charmer, the DPP government has called for a referendum on a new constitution that would proclaim a new, independent Republic of Taiwan.
In Beijing, the developments in Taiwan are a nightmare scenario for the new president, who fears that any move toward independence on the island could have a domino effect on other parts of the country, especially Tibet and Xinjiang, as well as in Hong Kong, where activists have grown impatient with a series of broken promises by Beijing. Wei is also aware of the power plays within the CCP, with Mei Ying-jeou, who vied for the presidency with Wei, and others, such as Admiral Tang, waiting for him to commit a mistake so as to sideline him. Wei, portrayed by Cooper as an otherwise sensible man, therefore has no option but to order a determined response to Taipei’s move toward independence.
What follows is fairly predictable and draws from a scenario outlined in Richard Bush III and Michael O’Hanlon’s A War Like No Other, which characters in Cooper’s book consult on a few occasions. Taiwanese overwhelmingly vote in favor of a new constitution, Beijing imposes a blockade and Washington ends up caught in the middle. Exacerbating the pressure on President Adams is the presidential campaign, in which her opponent, Governor Todd Williams of Georgia, plays the part of the archetypical Republican who does not waste a second to accuse Adams of being soft on China or of abandoning a fellow democracy when she vacillates.
Undaunted by the blockade and the threat of war, Yo stays the course, China sinks a few vessels approaching Taiwan, the US and Japan retaliate and the situation escalates, bringing the participants to the brink — a Cuban Missile Crisis of the 21st century that will need leadership just as great as that displayed by John F. Kennedy and Nikita Khrushchev.
As the crisis intensifies, Cooper does a fine job exploring the
process of decision-making in
Beijing and Washington, the assumptions that guide decisionmaking in all three capitals, and how Taipei and Beijing play Adams against Williams to their benefit. All of this is very plausible and instructive. Cooper also skillfully exposes the inherent contradictions in the Taiwan Relations Act and “dual deterrence,” which when push comes to shove appear to be more straightjackets than useful