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Fire of the Raging DragonPacific Rim Series
By Don Brown
ZONDERVANCopyright © 2012 Don Brown
All right reserved.
Chapter OneNear the island of Itu Aba, Spratly Islands South China Sea
five minutes after sunrise twenty-first century
Three porpoises break the surface of the sea in perfect formation, peacefully oblivious to the thundering rotor blades slicing through the morning air just seventy-five feet above.
From the cockpit of the lead chopper, Lieutenant Wang Ju, squadron commander, looked out to his left at the black attack helicopter beside him, its nose dipped down. Hanging from the chopper's underbelly is a fistful of anti-armor rockets, each one powerful enough to take out any target they might find below. Painted on the tail section of its fuselage is a single orange star.
Wang Ju gave his wingman a thumbs-up, then looked to his right, where an identical black chopper, also armed with rockets and displaying a single orange star, flew in a flanking pattern.
There were ten helicopters. They were Z-10 attack helicopters of the PLA Navy, the People's Liberation Army-Navy.
Thundering through clear skies against a five-knot headwind, they flew so close to the surface of the water that their downdraft cut a wide band of ripples across the sea.
Wang Ju glanced down. The porpoises had vanished.
He checked his instrument panel.
Twelve miles to target. Visible contact expected within seconds. He ran through his combat checklist.
Thirty-millimeter cannon. Armed. Check.
HJ-9 anti-tank guided missiles. Armed. Check.
HJ-10 anti-tank missiles. Armed. Check.
TY-90 air-to-air missiles. Armed. Check.
A burnt orange glow lit the cockpit. The edge of the rising sun draped an orange carpet across the rippling wavelets below.
There! Dead ahead! Twelve o'clock!
Itu Aba Island.
The choppers whacked through a wisp of clouds that swept from left to right, blinding their view. Seconds later, they burst through into the sunlit sky on the other side.
The island looked larger now, and the outlines of two buildings came into view. In the distance, at the end of the airstrip in the middle of the island, a green C-130 cargo plane sat on the tarmac.
As the sun climbed higher, its rays illuminated the red flag flapping in the breeze. But the flag was not all red. A dark blue rectangle dominated the upper-left corner, and in the middle of the rectangle was a twelve-point white sun.
The Flag of Rebellion! Anger flushed his body.
"All units. Tiger Leader. On my lead, break left. Assume attack formation."
They had drilled for this maneuver dozens of times over the mainland and dozens more times in flight simulators with footage of the island.
Wang Ju flicked the yoke to his left. Like a flock of geese banking in a perfect "V" formation, the choppers broke out to the east of the island, where they would regroup and launch their attack from the blinding glare of the rising sun, making them harder targets for any sentries posted on the beach with machine guns or handheld missiles.
"Tiger Leader to all units. Arm missiles and report."
"Tiger Two. Missiles armed."
"Tiger Three. Missiles armed."
"Tiger Four ..."
Three miles to the east of Itu Aba, at one thousand feet over the water, they resumed attack formation.
"All units. Follow me." Wang Ju pushed down on his yoke. The lead chopper started back toward the island. "Lock on targets. Report."
"Tiger Two ... target locked ... Tiger Three ... target locked ..."
"Stand by to fire. On my mark."
Ju checked his airspeed indicator.
Speed, 125 knots. Target ... 3 miles downrange ... 2.75 miles ... 2.5 miles.
He gripped the missile-release button. "Stand by. On my mark ..."
Target ... 2.25 miles ... 2.0 miles.
The Z-10 jumped, then settled onto an air cushion. Below the chopper, a single rocket dropped through the air, ignited, and streaked away, trailing a white stream of smoke. Nine other choppers released weapons. Ten white streaks, like streamers dropping from a Shanghai convention hall at New Year's, raced through the sky in a deadly convergence on Itu Aba.
Wang Ju increased airspeed to 130 knots and watched the missiles close on their targets. A fiery explosion in the middle of the island sent angry flames spiraling a hundred feet skyward. A second explosion sent more flames skyward, although not quite as high as the first. When the third explosion erupted, thick black smoke billowed up, rising from bright-hot flames leaping into the morning sky.
"Reduce airspeed to twenty knots," Wang Ju ordered. "Arm machine guns. Descend to 500 feet. Proceed with caution."
He yanked back on the yoke, slowing the helicopter a half mile from the beach. "Go to hover position."
Like gigantic buzzing dragonflies, the ten choppers hovered five hundred feet above the island, viewing the product of their destructive handiwork. Four separate infernos spewing thick black smoke raged below — one from each building at the airstrip, the third from the flaming mass that a moment ago had been a C-130 transport plane, and the fourth from the fuel depot.
Wang Ju flipped on the helicopter's external video cameras to record the event for posterity. As he watched the video monitor's display of the island ablaze in a fiery display of flame and smoke, it hit him. He was witnessing one of the greatest historical moments in the history of the People's Republic of China!
Historians would hail this moment as the dawn of the full and final reunification of the two Chinas under Communist rule! And at center stage of the story would be the squadron leader! Lieutenant Wang Ju! Billions of children in Shanghai, Beijing, Hong Kong, and, yes, even Taipei, would forever remember his name! Many would worship him as a hero!
The Hero's Medal would soon dangle from his neck. And if not the Hero's Medal, then the Meritorious Ser vice Medal! Perhaps the medal would be awarded by President Tang himself! Ju had always wanted to meet the charismatic and bold new president of the People's Republic. Perhaps this would be his chance!
"Proceed cautiously. Move in for closer observation," Wang Ju said as he forced his mind back to the mission. "Watch for small arms on the ground. Eliminate all potential threats."
He tapped the yoke. The air armada inched forward, hovering over the breaking waves as they headed toward the airspace over the beach.
A figure ran from a burning building.
Suddenly, several figures popped up from behind the sand dunes just beyond the beach. They were carrying rifles and ran away from the approaching choppers toward the burning C-130.
Fools! he thought. What did they hope to accomplish by running? Even if they reached the other side of the island, they would have to swim two hundred miles to the Vietnamese coastline.
As Wang Ju watched the men scamper away from the beach, the one on the far left stopped running and turned around.
Wang Ju squinted his eyes. What was the man doing? He looked down through binoculars and saw the man aim his rifle at the choppers! Wang Ju pulled the trigger on the 30-millimeter cannon. Machine-gun fire cracked the air as a string of flashing tracer bullets shot to the ground. A sand cloud rose around the running men, blocking visibility. When the sand cloud cleared, six bodies were strewn in a zigzag pattern, their rifles scattered around them like harmless toothpicks.
Nothing moved. He waited. Finally, moving slowly, other figures began heading for the beach, their arms up, palms turned to the heavens in the universal symbol of surrender.
Wang Ju switched on the chopper's loudspeaker system and spoke in Mandarin. "To all Taiwanese personnel on the island. Come onto the beach with your hands in the air. If you keep your hands in the air, you will not be shot. Military personnel of the People's Republic will land shortly to facilitate your departure." He switched back to the squadron frequency. "Tiger Leader to all aircraft. Fly to prearranged guard points. Remain on station until further order."
The choppers broke from their straight line and flew to positions surrounding the island, hanging in the sky above Itu Aba like points on a clock, their cannons and rockets pointed down at anything or anyone that might move.
Wang Ju scanned the horizon. The second wave of helicopters approaching from the northwest were not attack choppers of the People's Liberation Army-Navy, but rather MI-17-V7 troop transport choppers from the People's Liberation Naval Air Force. The first of five MI-17s came in two hundred feet over the top of the hovering Z-10s. The transport choppers slowed their approach for landing as first one, then another feathered down in the center of the runway that ran down the middle of the island. Armed Chinese Marines poured from the first chopper as the second MI-17 touched down at the end of the runway.
Marines of the People's Liberation Army-Navy fanned out over the island, pointing their guns at the vanquished Taiwanese, who fell to their knees in the sand and surf before their captors, their hands behind their heads.
Wang Ju watched as two other Marines rushed to the flagpole bearing the red flag with the blue rectangular corner and the white twelve-point sun and ripped down the banner. One set it afire, then tossed it aside on the sand to burn.
A new flag ascended the pole. At the top, the wind unfurled it, revealing a large yellow star sewn in the upper-left corner of the orangish-red banner. To the right of the yellow star were four smaller stars in the formation of a waxing crescent moon.
As the morning sun lit the banner of the People's Republic in brilliant splendor, Ju considered it a moment for the ages, an eternal image forever frozen in time. Tears flooded his eyes and dripped onto his flight suit.
"All units! Tiger Leader. Mission accomplished! Break formation! Return to base."
Presidential Palace Zhongnanhai Compound Beijing, People's Republic of China
shortly after sunrise
Years ago, as a hard-charging, mid-level information officer at Communist Party headquarters in Beijing, the new occupant of the office of the president of the People's Republic had been struck by an offhand comment by Barack Obama, then president of the United States.
In a difficult moment after his inauguration, President Obama lamented to the American press that "it would be easier to be president of China."
Perhaps there was more truth in that statement than Barack Obama had at the time realized, President Tang Qhichen now knew. For unlike the president of the United States, who, at least in theory, had to worry about constitutional checks and balances imposed on the executive by the legislative and judicial branches of the US government, the president of the People's Republic of China had no such "constitutional" roadblocks with which to be concerned.
Years before the Obama statement, before Tang started his meteoric ascendency up the party ladder as one of the brightest young minds of his generation, he had been studying at Harvard, as had so many other young Chinese and Russian revolutionaries. His concentration there was on the structure of the American government with the intention, even then, to compare and contrast the presidencies of each nation in order to focus on the strengths and weaknesses of each system.
Even at Harvard, as a foreign doctoral candidate, Tang had already set as his life's goal to bolster the power of the Chinese presidency in the event that he ever fulfilled the hot ambitions running through his veins and his soul.
Being "president" in China wasn't the same as being president of the United States. For the Chinese presidency was and is a necessary dictatorship or, at the very mildest, as American political analyst Bill Kristol once said, "the strongest position in an autocratic and thoroughly entrenched and unaccountable political system."
Privately, Tang embraced the notion of dictatorship and had agreed with Kristol's comparison. He even quoted him in his dissertation comparing the two presidencies.
Dictatorship, Tang believed, not only best served the interests of the masses but was also the most efficient means in the operations of government.
But there remained one major inadequacy in the structure of the Chinese presidency, and it had to do with command and control over the huge three-million-member People's Liberation Army-Navy. Despite the enhanced power given to the Chinese president, in one very important area, the president of the United States wielded more power. And that area had to do with control of the nation's military. For while the American Constitution gave the American president very clear command- and-control authority as commander in chief of all United States military forces, the loose conglomeration of the Communist bureaucracy that ran China had led sometimes to ambiguity in how the country was run and about just who ran its military.
Tang's final doctoral thesis at Harvard, published in both English and Mandarin, touched on this very topic and would have been considered boring in most non-academic circles.
He titled it "The Presidency of the United States versus the Presidency of the People's Republic of China: A Comparison of the Strengths and Weaknesses in Command and Control of the Military Under the Constitutional Structure of Each Nation."
The thesis presented a contrasting study of command-and-control power of the US and Chinese presidents over their respective militaries. In it, Tang hypothesized that China, despite her economic potential, could never become a world superpower unless and until a Chinese president wielded efficient and uncontested control over all Chinese fighting forces.
He also hypothesized that the US presidency had assumed increasing control over the American military because of the use of American presidential power in the many wars and conflicts that America has been involved in after World War II. Branding the US presidency as an "imperial" presidency, he cited a long list of non-declared wars that America had been involved in since 1945.
The list of postwar military action was long and revealing, starting with the Berlin Airlift in 1948, the Korean War in 1950, all the way through America's involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan through 2012 and beyond.
The thesis created an international uproar, at least within the international think-tank community. It was praised by American liberals as a brilliant denunciation of the long list of US military interventions and for its conclusion that the US presidency had become "imperial." His supporters at Harvard had said, "Nations must share equal power on a true global stage."
Tang concluded that "America had been a warmonger," and a number of American columnists at the Washington Post, the New York Times, and the San Francisco Chronicle penned glowing analyses agreeing with him.
Tang had been blasted by conservatives, who criticized Harvard for allowing Communists to study there. Conservatives condemned Tang's conclusion that the only way to strengthen the Chinese presidency and to strengthen the Chinese president's command and control over the Chinese military was to use Chinese military force more often, with a tempo resembling the American pattern since 1945.
The Washington Times branded Tang's thesis as "more dangerous than the original Communist Manifesto." The Manchester Union Leader was more blunt and less diplomatic than the Times, claiming that "this dissertation is Mein Kampf and Karl Marx all wrapped into the mind of a dangerous madman."
The Wall Street Journal, in an editorial entitled "The Rise of the Raging Dragon," suggested that Tang "proposed setting Communist China on a course of military aggression patterned on the Soviet Cold War model." From this editorial, headline writers had branded Tang as the young Raging Dragon, a name that stuck and a name that Tang, frankly, embraced as a badge of honor.
But to Tang, his ideas were neither liberal nor conservative. Instead, they were practical. More military power for the Chinese president was a practical solution and, in fact, the only means of achieving Sino superpower status. His vision was to transform China into a military superpower. His doctoral thesis advocating this solution got him noticed not only in America but also within the highest echelons of power in Beijing. The thesis was the solid-rocket booster that had launched his amazing climb through the party ranks.
In the fifteen years since he left Harvard, the uproar created when the document was first published seemed to have been forgotten in the West — until a year ago.
One year ago, when Tang became president of the People's Republic, the same groups in America, both liberal and conservative, reawoke in a loud swell of cacophonous voices of both lavish praise and venomous howling, with conservatives broadcasting bloodcurdling warnings about him. The names of the columnists and talking heads had changed over the years, but the sound of their voices had remained the same.
Despite their cries, despite choruses of both praise and prophecies of doom, the Raging Dragon's time had come.
Excerpted from Fire of the Raging Dragon by Don Brown Copyright © 2012 by Don Brown. Excerpted by permission of ZONDERVAN. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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