New thriller predicts deadly US/China war

Battle of the century: the US and China are the world’s biggest military spenders.

Is there a war coming between China and the US? Yesterday, Joe Biden made headlines by attacking Xi Jinping in his first speech to Congress. Top military veterans are imagining the worst.

Joe Biden stood up in front of the US Congress and warned the world of a deadly threat facing his nation.

“We’re in competition with China to win the 21st century,” Biden declared solemnly. “I spent a lot of time with President Xi Jinping. He’s deadly earnest about becoming the most significant, consequential nation in the world.”

Today, as Biden celebrates his 100th day as US President, many believe he is right to be worried.

There is no doubt: China, with a population of nearly 1.4 billion, is a huge force on the world stage. Last December, one UK report even predicted that China will overtake the US to become the world’s biggest economy in 2028, five years earlier than previously forecast.

Meanwhile, as China grows, the US is faltering. Political upheaval, an economic crisis, decades of conflict in the Middle East and the pandemic have all dented America’s confidence.

Now, some people are wondering what a war between China and the US would look like.

Retired admiral James Stavridis and former marine Elliot Ackerman think it might look a little bit like this: The date is March 2034, and America’s president is faced with a crisis abroad.

In the South China Sea, US warships are caught in a surprise cyber attack by the Chinese navy. Hundreds of American sailors are lying dead at the bottom of the ocean.

Meanwhile, a US Marine Corps pilot testing stealth technology has just been captured over the skies of Iran.

Back in Washington DC, a terrifying reality dawns on the President: Iran and China are plotting together against America.

This is the opening of 2034: A Novel of the Next World War, published this March and written together by the two US army veterans.

The cyber thriller ends in a stunning nuclear battle and the surprise emergence of India as the world’s biggest superpower. It might seem far fetched, but reviewers have identified three startling similarities between the opening of 2034 and recent real life events.

Worrying cooperation. In 2034, Iran and China work together to attack America. Alarmingly, Iran signed a 25-year trade, investment and defence pact with China last month.

Rogue Russia. Stavridis and Ackerman believe that in a war between China and the US, Russia will side with China. Meanwhile, just last week Vladimir Putin warned the US that anyone who threatens Russia “will regret their deeds more than they have regretted anything in a long time”.

The battle for Taiwan. It is no surprise that the first thing China does after attacking US warships in 2034 is seize Taiwan. In real life, Taiwan is home to TSMC, one of only three manufacturers that can make the world’s most advanced microchips, which are vital for cyber warfare and the digital economy. Today, China is increasing its military presence around Taiwan. “If Taiwan is taken by China, I think the consequences will be global,” said the island’s Foreign Minister this week.

Is there a war coming between China and the US?

13 years

It is inevitable, say some. In 2019, former US secretary of state Henry Kissinger warned that the US and China were in the “foothills of a cold war”. Today, his words sound like a grim foreshadowing of bad news to come. Aggression between America and its adversaries, including China, is growing. For Biden to speak out now, he must be truly concerned.

It is too soon to say, others claim. War is a possibility, not a certainty. If world leaders work together, they can stop a war before it begins. Stavridis and Ackerman insist their book is a cautionary tale designed to help America avoid disaster, not a prediction of impending doom. As Biden said on Wednesday, the US is not looking to start a conflict, but to prevent one.

You Decide

  1. Is China the greatest threat the West faces today?
  2. What should Joe Biden do to prevent a war with China?

Activities

  1. In pairs, draw a map of the South China Sea. Then annotate your map with one interesting fact about each nation that borders the sea.
  2. In groups, imagine what you think the world will look like in 2034. Then write and perform a scene from a play set in 2034 for the rest of the class.

Some People Say...

“Xi and other autocrats think that democracy can’t compete in the 21st century with autocracies.”

Joe Biden, President of the USA

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
It is generally agreed that many authors of dark futuristic fiction want to prevent the future they imagine from becoming a reality. This is why novels like 2034 are set in the near rather than the distant future - this creates a sense of urgency for readers about real life events. Ackerman and Stavridis originally intended to set 2034 much further in the future. “The more we wrote, the more we started realising no, no, no, no, no. This stuff is happening,” says Ackerman.
What do we not know?
One main area of debate surrounds who would win a war between the US and China. American analysts warn that if war broke out in Asia, China would have a geographical advantage. “It’s not that a Chinese “victory” means the Chinese Communist Party takes over Washington, but that the US can’t successfully eject China from Japanese-claimed territory or Taiwan,” wrote journalist Kathy Gilsinan in 2019. Meanwhile, 2034 imagines that a neutral third party would be the ultimate winner.

Word Watch

Congress
The lawmakers of the United States. As well as issuing a warning about China, Biden called for a £2.9 trillion “investment in America” in his speech.
Xi Jinping
Xi has been the President of China since 2013. In 2018, term limits were removed, meaning that Xi could remain in power for his whole life.
James Stavridis
Stavridis is an author, a retired four-star admiral and also a former supreme allied commander of NATO. 2034 is his first fiction book.
Elliot Ackerman
Ackerman served five tours in Iraq and Afghanistan while in the Marines.
South China Sea
China claims almost all of the sea as part of its territory, but this is contested by the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam, among others. Both China and the US have military bases in the sea.
Far fetched
Unbelievable.The phrase is said to originate from British sailors who returned from far away lands with exaggerated or unlikely stories.
Taiwan
Taiwan says it is an independent country. It has its own government, elections and military. But China claims Taiwan as part of its territory and neither the US nor UK officially recognise Taiwan as a state.
TSMC
The Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company makes chips using US machines. This means the US has some leverage to stop China using Taiwan’s supercomputing facilities.

PDF Download

Please click on "Print view" at the top of the page to see a print friendly version of the article.