China in 2048

“The geopolitical landscape in Perceval must be plausible in light of the current geopolitical landscape.”  How was I going to do that?  Creating a future world is daunting enough, but then to add a geopolitical layer, expand it into a global tapestry?  I thought I’d not manage this at all.  But it’s just like any other big project, i.e. break it up into smaller pieces and it’ll be easier to do.

My first task was to familiarize myself with the present geopolitical landscape (which was actually several years ago), before our recent economic troubles and after Japan’s in the 1990’s.  I read voraciously, but my favorite source turned out to be The Atlantic Monthly magazine.  It reflected a growing interest in China as well as China’s growing economic power.  I realized that I could not create a believable world in 2048 without making China an important player on the global stage.  So, what would China look like in 2048?

Did I need to describe Chinese society?  Or the physical landscape in China?  I anticipated not setting any part of the series in China so I realized I could focus on policy, culture, customs and attitudes/beliefs in order to create a picture of China in 2048.  Considering that China has recently made deep inroads into Africa, exchanging expertise and knowledge for raw materials, without educating the people to be able to use the raw materials themselves, I decided that China would move beyond its current stated policy of non-interference in another country’s internal business.  (Technically, they are adhering to that policy in Africa by not providing education for the people.)  I wondered how the world would react if China decided to interfere in the global economy.

Currently, China owns a gigantic part of the American debt in the form of Treasury bonds it has bought with its surplus dollars, as well as other investments in manufacturing, business, real estate, etc.  Japan has fallen to second place as the country to whom we owe the most money.  In 2048, America is embroiled in a civil war that has lasted 30 years and she finds herself in a precarious position economically, i.e. still a large economy but no longer strong.  China sees an opening in this and decides to call in everything America owes it.  This leads to a panic that Japan and the European Union manage to calm with the proposal of talks in Vienna.  This is the backstory to Perceval.

Why does China make this decision which could be incredibly destructive to the global economy and itself  Aaaaaahhhhhh……..   I have to explain it!  Well, it’s not necessary to include all the details in Perceval or any of the novels in the series.  However, this is information that I must command so that I can write Evan’s story.  I had to restrain the impulse to explain, explain, explain and, I realized, keep the details connected to specific characters who reveal them.

In Perceval, no one really knows what’s going on in Beijing.  In the second novel, Perceval’s Shadow, Evan’s life takes a dangerous detour although he learns more about himself, the choices he’s made and how they affect him as well as the people in his life.  It’s actually not until Perceval in Love that it becomes crucial to reveal what the Chinese are doing and why.  I don’t want to give it all away, of course.  However, China has made wonderful progress in terms of quality of life for its people, but not in terms of democracy which I saw as a natural progression from where China is today.  The Chinese crave raw materials (and oil) to produce everything they sell to the world and themselves.  And there’s a power struggle going on at the highest level of the Chinese government, a huge disagreement about policy, that determines how China interacts with the rest of the world, and ultimately affects Evan’s life and the people he cares about.

I continue to research China, and have found the articles on China in The Atlantic Monthly interesting and educational, as well as other sources.  What I learned for the Perceval series and creating a different geopolitical landscape: it’s not necessary to map out the entire landscape.  The details of that landscape that influence Evan’s story are what is necessary, and they are revealed in events and people who intersect with his life.


2 responses to “China in 2048

  1. “…And there’s a power struggle going on at the highest level of the Chinese government, a huge disagreement about policy, that determines how China interacts with the rest of the world,…”

    This statement could be true about 1930s, and many other periods of Chinese history. Especially the decision in the late 19th Century revolving around interacting with Europe, the People’s Revolution in the early 20th Century, and the 1970s decision to deal with the rest of the world. You might find some of these periods of interest. How did China see the world before the point, and what was the actual result a few decades later?

    What’s going on in Beijing also has little to do with what’s going on in the rest of the country. The official government position on manufacturing controls can make them vulnerable (there are only 3 factories in China making 30% of the world’s socks, two of which are fairly near each other). People here look too hard at “well, how could we effect China’s economy? We can’t all stop buying socks!”

    No, but what’s going to happen if some cranky person decides to blow up one of these factories? She’ll distrupt half of the world getting new socks, drop Haines’ stock prices…

    You might also want to attend a lecture by Mike Osterholm, if you get the chance, and he’s speaking about emergence preparedness. He’s a fantastic speaker anyway, but he can go through a list off the top of his head pointing out how totally precarious our national security is on things we don’t ever think about.

    Like the Chinese sock example, the entire freight railway system in the USA is managed by two – count them, two – central locations. I forget how much of the national economy relies on rail, but it’s pretty big. It would therefore take two bombs to bring the US economy to its knees. These central management points are not the sort of thing you can replace over night, unlike air traffic. Blow up MSP? Well, it will be annoying to fly into St. Cloud or Duluth for personal transit, and flying freight into some other big city and using the roads will increase costs – but it won’t stop air traffic, just slow it down.

    Regarding China’s economy. Again, the exact numbers are not in my head, so please take this as a generalization which can easily be checked. Of the top 30 medications sold by volume in the USA, 27 of them rely on materials that are made overseas. Almost every single vaccine sold in the US is of foreign manufacture. If there is a major outbreak of disease, do you *seriously* think China or Belgium or anyone else is going to say “Oh, we should send the drugs to the US rather than use them ourselves”?? Again, it’s a matter of how fast we can cope with abrupt changes. Bringing new vaccinations on to the market is generally a couple of years, and that’s if you already have a license to do it. Even if the FDA said “start making it without a license”, you simply can’t do tomorrow. If it’s that big of a crisis, the people manufacturing parts are going to be busy, too.

    Anyway – Osterholm’s lecture could provide a very interesting view of the current vulnerabilities in the US economy, which you might not otherwise read about in other places.

  2. China has been fairly consistent in its behavior over the last couple hundred years — their philosophy regarding involvement in the world, etc. has been pretty consistent. So, I was able to extrapolate fairly easily how China might react in 2048 to certain kinds of threats. It doesn’t surprise me that what I wrote reminded you of China in earlier decades…..(smile)

    The threat in “Perceval” to America is very specific. I needed it to be economic, to affect more than America which would mean other countries would have an interest in what happened, and could be initiated by China, i.e. the Chinese government. Your ideas about the sock factories, vaccines, the rail system, etc. are interesting but do not fit what I was looking for, i.e. a global threat by China that focused on America.

    I have heard Mike Osterholm speak, although not at the length of a lecture, and have enjoyed his clarity and specificity. I’m glad he’s in Minnesota and working on our side….(smile)

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