China: Cooperation or Conflict?

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Cooperation or Conflict?

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The amazing economic, political and military transformation of the People's Republic of China is rapidly pushing it into the realm of superpower status. Over the past 30 years it has been the world's fastest-growing economy with an average annual increase of 10 percent.

China recently passed Japan in becoming the second greatest economic power behind America, and it overtook Germany as the number one exporting country. It's still far behind the United States in terms of GDP—$5.9 trillion vs. $14.7 trillion. Nevertheless, it's now ousting America as the world's biggest manufacturer—a position the United States has held for 110 years. Chinese manpower is vast. Consider that while China is about the geographic size of America, it has more than four times the population—1.3 billion people or nearly a fifth of humanity.

Moreover, "according to the latest IMF [International Monetary Fund] official forecasts, China's economy will surpass that of America in real terms in 2016—just five years from now" ("IMF Bombshell: Age of America Nears End," MarketWatch, April 25, 2011).

Will this burgeoning global colossus cooperate with America and the West, or will its growing influence lead to greater conflict or even war?

The drophead of an article in The Economist says, "China and America are bound to be rivals, but they do not have to be antagonists" ("The Dangers of a Rising China," Dec. 2, 2010). "But the two mistrust each other," the article states, "China sees America as a waning power that will eventually seek to block its own rise. And America worries about how Chinese nationalism, fueled by rediscovered economic and military might, will express itself." Just where is all of this heading?

Will the new China fit in or become a threat

The impact of the revolutionary changes underway inside China are felt worldwide and are creating a new self-identity—a potent mix of past greatness, recent humiliation, present achievement and future supremacy.

As China transitions into a world power, another article in The Economist asks: "Will it broadly fit in with the Western world, as a place where people want nothing more than a chance to succeed? Or . . . will China become a threat—an angry country set on avenging past wrongs and forcing others to bend to its will?

"China's choice of role, says Jim Steinberg, America's deputy secretary of state, is ‘the great question of our time.' The peace and prosperity of the world depends on which path it takes" ("Brushwood and Gall," Dec. 2, 2010, emphasis added throughout).

Of course it's wise to remember that China is no stranger to conflict. Since 1949 China has had military skirmishes with Russia and has fought against United Nations actions in Korea, India and Vietnam.

According to Foreign Affairs, available data shows "China as the only major power that has been more violent than Muslim states; in crises, it has used force at a rate more than four times as high as that of the United States" (Richard Betts, "Conflict or Cooperation? Three Visions Revisited," Nov.-Dec. 2010).

Conflicts in the South China Sea

As relations grow worse, so does the potential for conflicts. China's rising hard and soft global power is felt most directly in Southeast Asia, where it's trying to create a more dominant sphere of influence than America's. But many of China's 14 neighboring countries remain uneasy about the prediction of a "Chinese century" and hotly dispute its claim to much of the South China Sea.

China sees the shadowy hand of America exerting its influence in an effort to contain and limit its rise, which is something it says it will not permit. The wealth of these Asian countries depends on China while their security currently depends on America, so which way will they turn?

China has joined more than 50 intergovernmental and 1,000 international nongovernmental organizations, including ASEAN Plus Three. ASEAN (the Association of Southeast Asian Nations) recently became China's third-largest trading partner.

"But reasonable China sometimes gives way to aggressive China," says The Economist ("The Dangers of a Rising China," Dec. 2, 2010).

"In March [2010], when the North [i.e., North Korea] sank a South Korean warship, killing 46 sailors, China failed to issue any condemnation. A few months later it fell out with Japan over some Chinese fishermen, arrested for ramming Japanese coastguard vessels around some disputed islands—and then it locked up some Japanese businessmen and withheld exports of rare earths vital for Japanese industry. And it has forcefully reasserted its claim to the Spratly and Paracel Islands and to sovereignty over virtually the entire South China Sea" (ibid.).

China did act quickly to help Japan with disaster relief following the recent earthquake and tsunami, but conflicts remain.

"The danger is that spats and rows will sour relations between China and America, just as the friendship between Germany and Britain crumbled in the decades before the first world war" (ibid.).

Other potential flashpoints

North Korea, Taiwan and various trade disputes are other areas of possible conflict.

China is North Korea's only real ally and primary benefactor. The United States continues to call on China to do more to halt North Korea's provocative behavior and meet international obligations. The Americans recently accused China of "enabling" North Korea to start a uranium-enrichment program and to launch attacks on South Korea's Yeonpyeong Island—the first strike on civilians since the Korean War (1950-53). The North even threatened to use nuclear weapons.

If war breaks out between the two Koreas, it would likely involve the 28,500 U.S. troops stationed in the South, and China may back the aggressor as it did during the Korean and Vietnam Wars.

Then there's China's claim to the island nation of Taiwan (which continued as the Republic of China after the communist revolution established the People's Republic of China over the mainland). "If the two Koreas share the world's scariest land border, the Taiwan Strait is its scariest sea passage. [Communist] China's insistence on reunification is absolute," says The Economist ("Friends, or Else," Dec. 2, 2010). While increased air travel and a new free-trade agreement are signs of improving relations, in a military conflict America would likely feel compelled to come to Taiwan's aid.

As for concerns over trade conflicts, "Chinese companies are scouring the globe for the raw materials they need. Already China is Saudi Arabia's biggest customer. It imports about half of the oil it burns, a share that will rise to two-thirds by 2015 and four-fifths by 2030. China cares what happens in the countries that supply it . . . One reason why China is now building an ocean-going navy is to protect its raw materials and goods from embargoes. This reflects a lack of faith in the global trading system, part of an underlying fear that the West is fundamentally hostile to China's prosperity" ("Less Biding and Hiding," The Economist, Dec. 2, 2010).

Growing military might

As the potential for conflicts grows, so does China's military might. The Chinese have the world's second largest navy and the largest standing army—more than 2.25 million troops (plus some 1.17 million paramilitary and reserves).

Over the past decade military expenditures have grown about 10 percent annually, reaching almost $100 billion a year, second only to America. The country has also been modernizing its missiles, submarines, radar, cyber-warfare and anti-satellite weapons.

The Economist reports a few areas that stand out. One is "what the Pentagon calls ‘the most active land-based ballistic- and cruise-missile programme in the world' . . . They are also improving their medium-range ballistic missiles able to carry either conventional or nuclear warheads and deploy several hundred air and land-launched long-range cruise missiles" ("The Fourth Modernisation," Dec. 2, 2010).

Furthermore, "China has transformed and enlarged its submarine fleet. China has about 66 submarines against America's 71, though the American boats are superior" (ibid.). Some estimate they will have 85 to 100 by 2030. "What does this amount to? Military experts in America, Australia and Japan think China's new arsenals are a greater threat than its higher-profile plans to launch aircraft-carriers in the next decade or so . . . Ultimately, China seems to want to stop the American fleet from being able to secure its interests in the western Pacific" (ibid.).

Key prophetic relationships: Russia and India

In addition to building its military capacity, China is also developing closer relations with key countries in Southeast Asia and the Middle East. Its relationships with Russia and India will also likely continue to grow.

Bible prophecy indicates that nations north and east of Jerusalem will engage in a major end-time conflict with a group of 10 European powers led by what the prophet Daniel calls the "king of the North" (Daniel 11:40-44). The book of Revelation calls this leader, as well as the union he rules over, "the beast" (Revelation 17:12-14).

Russia is the major power north of Jerusalem, while India, China and other Asian countries lie east. According to Ezekiel 38 and 39, these and other Asian nations will fight together against Jesus Christ shortly after He establishes His rule on the earth and restores the people of Israel to their homeland. So it fits well that these northern and eastern forces would be in alliance shortly before His coming as well. Indications are that they will respond with overwhelming military force to the overt military actions of the king of the North as his forces move into the Middle East.

Russia today continues to be China's leading provider of arms, and joint military exercises have been conducted between these nations for the past five years. Even the legislative bodies of the two countries, the Russian Duma and National People's Congress, announced they will begin building a "stronger China-Russia strategic partnership of coordination" (Xinhua News Agency, Dec. 2, 2010).

Ties with India are also growing. Historically, China and India have enjoyed thousands of years of relative peace between them, and now joint trade has been growing at about 46 percent annually over the past five years—reaching $60 billion. For the last four years they have conducted joint military exercises. India has the world's second largest military (1.3 million, plus nearly twice as many paramilitary and reserves) and second largest population (1.2 billion). It also has 60 to 80 nuclear weapons.

Devastating end-time events

In the short run, says The Economist about China's rise, "the most likely outcome is a more assertive China that wants to get more done abroad without fundamentally upsetting the world order. On sensitive territorial issues where the [ruling communist] party's credentials are at stake, China may be uncompromising and increasingly unreasonable . . . How easily will the world accommodate this more assertive China? . . .  Asian security will be determined not just by how China uses its new strength but by how other countries react to it" ("Less Biding and Hiding").

Bible prophecy gives no specific indication of a major conflict between China and America. But it does reveal that America's power will fade (Leviticus 26:16-19) while European and Asian powers are destined to rise, building toward critical end-time events.

With the blowing of the sixth of the "seven trumpets" in the book of Revelation (8:6), a huge 200-million-man army will arise from lands to the east of the Euphrates River (Revelation 9:13-19). That's about double the nearly 100 million troops mobilized on all sides during World War II.

The resulting engagement will kill a third of mankind and may involve weapons of mass destruction (verses 18-19).

These events are followed by what appears to be a second phase of the overall operation as Revelation 16:12 reveals: "Then the sixth angel poured out his bowl on the great river Euphrates, and its water was dried up, so that the way of the kings from the east might be prepared." Notice that the forces of multiple eastern rulers are involved.

The ultimate outcome of these major events is Jesus Christ intervening in divine power to save humanity from complete self-annihilation as the armies of the earth gather at Armageddon (verse 16; Matthew 24:22). Then Jesus will establish His rule on the earth at long last, ushering in a thousand years of peace (see Revelation 20:6; Isaiah 2:2-4). The Chinese, as all people, will at that time be led to follow God and pursue peace and cooperation with the rest of humankind.