Friday, July 28, 2017

A Chinese Monster: Guest Post by Matt Rees

After graduating from Oxford, Matt Rees served as a foreign correspondent in the Middle East before becoming an award-winning British crime novelist for his Omar Yossef mysteries. He currently resides in Luxembourg with his wife and two children. CHINA STRIKE: An ICE Thriller  (Crooked Lane Books) is the second in his Dominic Verrazzano series.

A Chinese monster that warrants the fear we have of it

“There are very few monsters that warrant the fear we have of them.” The French Nobelist AndrĂ© Gide might just as well have aimed his phrase at current American politics and economics. Of course, it depends what you’re afraid of. China is often portrayed as the villain today, cited by Donald Trump (during his campaign) for “the greatest theft in the history of the world,” stealing American jobs by dumping manufactured goods and running up a mammoth trade surplus.

Let’s set aside the labor camps and the persecution of Christians and Tibetan Buddhists and the Falun Gong and…Yeah, let’s put it all aside and focus on things that might make you respond with more than just a shake of the head (I’m not trying to underestimate your compassion; I’m just assuming you’re human and you’re more likely to feel threatened when it’s close to home). China’s not playing fair, that’s for sure. Why should they? Some time I’ll tell you all about how diplomacy works and where it intersects with intelligence work, but in brief: everyone wants an unfair advantage in everything all the time everywhere, yet they like to tell each other to their faces that they’re cooperating. Right now there’s a big knife at the throat of the world and it’s held by Beijing.

The backdrop to my new thriller CHINA STRIKE is a negotiation between the US and China over trade. Right at the start of the novel, China makes a threat that’s backed up by a horrific piece of cyberwarfare. The novel’s hero, Immigration and Customs Enforcement Special Agent Dom Verrazzano, has to track the hackers behind the cyberplot, otherwise there’ll be consequences even more devastating than the US caving at the trade talks.

The chase takes Verrazzano from Detroit and New York through several German cities and on to a Spanish island. In other words, when China strikes, the reverberations are everywhere.

That’s a concern—to diplomats, but also to you and me—right now, because China’s capacity to strike is getting bigger.

Much of the world sees China very differently to the way they did a few years ago. The withdrawal of the US from the Paris climate accord is an opening for China—current king of smog—to become the world leader on fighting climate change, because it has the capacity to make massive investments in climate technology and, of course, to sell it to everyone else. That will put China in the driving seat of a lot of other international forums as a result, so that Beijing gets still more powerful.

Why would you care? Because it’s a problem for international trade (which in the end means it’s a problem for jobs and living standards in countries that happen not to be China) and—as Agent Verrazzano discovers in CHINA STRIKE—it’s also a big problem for world security.

And your security.

Chinese military intelligence has an entire skyscraper in Beijing filled with programmers and hackers whose main aim is to get inside the computer systems of international companies. US companies are top of that list. Computer firms like to talk about “disruption,” by which they mean new products that question and change the entire playing field in a particular industry. China likes to disrupt, but it mainly does so by stealing someone else’s ideas.

China is building a massive infrastructure to exploit all this. Its policy is to develop a “New Silk Road” and a “Maritime Silk Road” across Asia. It plans to spend $1.4 trillion on the project.

Did you just say, why would you care again? Because when China steals industrial secrets (and uses them to create massive trade networks across Asia), they’re stealing from your economy. Now, your economy doesn’t share out the wealth as well as it could and chances are you’re getting less of the big cake than you think you’re due. But when there’s less to share out, you can be sure you aren’t going to get a better slice.

Worse, when China gets inside the computer systems of US companies they get all the data you’ve deposited with your credit card companies, your hospital, your social media profiles, and a whole bunch of other things that are presumably even more shameful than your bank account. Do you want the Chinese Communist Party to have access to your children’s social security numbers? You don’t know what they’ll do with that data, but they sure aren’t going to send out any lottery winnings.

The battle Special Agent Verrazzano wages in CHINA STRIKE is tied up with the dirty game of international diplomacy. It’s being fought out in more places than you’d know—right now.

1 comment:

Priscilla said...

Enjoyed this informative post! Look forward to reading your book.