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NOTE: This is part of a continuing online novel. Here is the Table of Contents.
Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing would not have given them this room even if it existed. That was an old man’s study, and the old man was dead. Instead, he sent the President’s wife and daughters to the Mao Memorial in Tienanmien Square, where an interpreter compared the late man to Thomas Jeffferson. They made the journey on foot, emphasizing the safety of the city, letting passers-by see the crowd of cameras covering them, at least from a distance.
The President, on the other hand, would do business in the Foreign Ministry building itself, recently opened to the public. Touring would be maintained as he arrived, to emphasize openness. He would be met there by Dai Binguo, deputy foreign minister, who would recount to him how he personally shook the hands of the building’s first tourists.
The ministry’s press hall would be perfect for the press, and the discussions would be held in an inner room, around a round table. One of those doors led to an office. The Visitor would be held there, with a prayer rug, the Qu’ran, and an interpreter who had been given orders to befriend the man.
Almost as soon as the pleasantries were over, however, there were difficulties. Hu Xintao, Li and Jen Renquin sat on one side of the table, with their interpreters, while the President arrived with Secretary of State-designate Rice and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. There was no representative from the treasury with him.
All at the table spoke through interpreters, turning toward one end of the table or the other as they did so.
Bush came right to his point. “When are you going to get this currency situation straightened out?” he asked.
“Rates are set by the market,” replied Jen evenly. “We gave you a concession, allowing rates to be set by the market. You asked for this concession.”
“We asked when the rate was over 8,” said Bush frankly. “At 4 all exports from China cost double what they did just last month. Our shoppers don’t like that, especially right before Christmas.”
There was a long silence at the table. Finally Rice spoke up. “The United States does not accept your threats toward the Republic of China,” she said at last, using a term for the island of Formosa guaranteed to insult her hosts.
Li deliberately ignored the insult. He didn't even give Rice the benefit of a blush. The Americans could not read what he could on President Hu’s face, either. “What threats?” Li asked . “We send no warships there. We have no exercises in the Strait. You know our alertness has not increased.”
“Verbal threats,” said Rice calmly. “We won’t accept verbal threats toward the independence of the island.” Obviously, Li thought, she is currying favor by showing herself to be hard-line. Li made a non-verbal signal to his own boss, who nodded.
“There is no threat against the island,” said Hu, opening his hands toward the President. “We do not threaten the island’s status. We have no intention of threatening its status. Its status is for the people there to decide. I am certain you agree with me on this, Mr. President.”
Bush nodded. “That is exactly what we wanted to hear,” he said. “But we are still left confused about your messages in recent weeks, the messages that brought me here on such short notice. You repeat the word ‘peace,’ but if there is no threat to the peace from your side, then what might you be talking about?”
“We were not discussing China’s threats to the peace,” said Li calmly. “We want all threats to the peace ended. Prosperity leads from the promise of peace and stability.”
“And security,” said Rumseld, interjecting himself for the first time. “Our country has been attacked. Our security is under threat. Surely China would wish to retaliate, anywhere in the world, if the center of Shanghai or Beijing were attacked by terrorists.”
“The War on Terrorism is non-negotiable,” added the President, nodding his head in agreement. He liked his team. He liked the way they thought.
“If there is no one to negotiate with, how can any war end?” asked Li gently.
“We’re not here to make fortune cookies,” said the President dismissively.
Hu smiled at Bush's reference to an American treat, invented at a Japanese tea garden in San Francisco, if memory served. The President didn’t know it, but Hu's smile was the kind of smile he would give a small child, not a world leader. “How would you like the War on Terrorism to end?” he asked, quietly, his palms out on the table. “If you could ask for a surrender, who would you ask it of, and what would that surrender be?”
Again, there was a long moment of silence. The Chinese delegation seemed preternaturally calm. Rice looked embarrassed. The President scowled.
“We just want ‘em dead,” he said at last.
“Who?” asked Li, in a loud voice that startled the Americans, not just for its volume but because it came before the translator had spoken, and it came in English. “Whose death would give you peace?” The last was also in English.
Bush had been concentrating his attention on Hu. Now he looked toward the foreign minister, as though for the first time. “Bin Laden,” he said. No translation was needed.
Li nodded. “Would the surrender of Osama Bin Laden really satisfy you?” he asked, again in English.
Then, he continued in Chinese. “Terror does not come from one man, or one group of men. It comes from causes that cannot be compromised. China knows about this. In our province of Xinjuang, we have our own Muslim terrorists. We have dealt with them firmly. We are always prepared for terrorism in Tibet. We maintain strong security throughout the country. We try to be aware of every thought that might become a plan, from any individual. You call us names for this. You call us a totalitarian communist dictatorship for this.”
Li waited for the translator to finish before continuing. “But could we have stopped Timothy McVeigh?” The English words sent a shock through the Americans. “There is no such thing as perfect security, no such thing as perfect safety. Only a sterile glass is completely clean.”
“I didn’t come here for a lecture about our internal security,” said Bush, dismissively.
“I did not intend to give you one,” Li said. “I state only what China has learned at great cost. Perfect security kills invention, it keeps a nation from progressing, it can destroy you. This is the great lesson of Chinese history, Mr. President. The great Emperors learned it in your 19th century. Even the Great Leader learned this at the end of his life. This is is the lesson Nixon taught. Adapt or die.”
Rice again interjected. “We have been trying to adapt since September 11,” she said. “All our actions are aimed at adapting to this new threat, toward countering it, toward hitting the threat before it hits us.”
“What if you could end the threat now, today?” asked Hu, startling the Americans again because he, too, had given them a sentence in English, and had obviously understood Rice without the need for his translator. He startled the Americans again by standing up. “Would you act to end the threat, today?” he said again.
“Damned straight,” said George Bush, ignoring diplomatic protocol entirely and standing up as he spoke. “Anywhere, anytime. Just point.”
Hu stepped back from the table, bowed, and motioned for the President to join him. The two men marched to a door neither had entered from. When Bush was directly before the door. Hu stepped away.
“Open it,” he said in English.
George Bush hesitated for only a moment. With his left hand he pulled open the door.
Inside, Bush saw a tall man in a white robe prostrated on the ground. Slowly, the man unwound himself, rising to his full height before the President, his eyes afire, his beard trailing toward the ground, the most familiar face of Bush’s own nightmares.
And then, as he had dreamt so often the last three years, George W. Bush reached into his inside coat pocket. He pulled a gun from there, pointed it at the apparition, and fired.
Bin Laden went down in a heap, shot by Saddam Hussein’s pistol.