During his recent trip to Asia, American President Barack Obama declared, “The fortunes of America and the Asia Pacific have become more closely linked than ever before.” He “singled out China as a primary engine for sustaining the world’s economic recovery” and welcomed “Beijing’s greater role on the world stage” (“In Japan, Obama Stresses Asia’s Role in U.S. Economy,” Washington Post, Nov. 14, 2009).
China’s greater global influence has led many analysts to predict that China will rival the United States as a global superpower by 2020. China’s amazing transformation to greater economic, political and military influence over the past three decades is astounding and may have far-reaching effects on how events leading to Christ’s return play out.
Transitioning to global power?
The Asian dragon is a symbol of power and strength often used in the West as a national emblem of China. I visited this fascinating country in 1984 as anchor for an ABC affiliate television documentary, A Glimpse of China Today. China was just beginning to emerge economically and politically from its long isolation. At that time, six years had passed since the introduction of market reforms by the Chinese Communist Party. American President Ronald Reagan visited China earlier the same year, being the third consecutive president to do so.
In interviews with street merchants, many of them peasants, it was clear that a new wave of economic reform was taking hold, allowing some entrepreneurs to carve out a new way of life. A small middle class was beginning to emerge as China’s access to the outside world began to transform the 5,000-year-old civilization.
The question remained, Could China rise to become a major power? Throughout much of its history China’s enormous population, land mass and political influence made it the center of gravity in world affairs unequaled by any other nation in the region.
China’s dominance ended after two millennia as a result of the dynasties’ gradual weakening, lack of technological innovation and defeat in the Anglo-Chinese (or Opium) Wars of the 19th century. “In fact, China was the largest economy for much of recorded history…In 1820 it still accounted for 30% of world GDP [Gross Domestic Product]” (“A Survey of the World Economy—the Real Great Leap Forward,” The Economist, Oct. 2, 2004, p. 5).
The long march from Marxism
Chairman Mao Tse-tung led the Communists to power in 1949 and brought the country into isolationism. After his death in 1976, China chose new leadership with a new formula for strengthening the country for the modern world. Veteran politician Deng Xiaoping became chairman in 1981 and implemented changes that decoupled the economy from politics, allowing a command economy controlled by the government to transform into a market-based economy where free enterprise could take root.
Upon Den Xiaopeng’s death in 1997, The Washington Post commented, “Deng had guided the country out of the chaos of the Cultural Revolution, flung open China’s doors to the outside world and loosened the grip of central economic planning while insisting that the Communist Party’s monopoly on power go unchallenged” (“China’s Deng Xiaoping Is Dead at 92,” Feb. 20, 1997).
Technological advances and manufacturing skills quickly developed. Politically, however, China remained under the tight control of the Communist Party, as the crushing of the 1989 Tiananmen Square student uprising demonstrated.
In 1995 I hosted a delegation of Chinese officials, including several political leaders from the manufacturing area just outside Shanghai. They toured American manufacturing facilities looking for new ideas and technologies. Over the next decade and a half, hundreds of similar groups traveled the world and used many other means to advance the manufacturing and technological capabilities of the Chinese industrial complex.
In 1996 China launched three nuclear-capable M-9 missiles toward Taiwan, increasing tensions with Taiwan’s American ally and reinforcing China’s growing military power and nuclear weapons capability. In 2007 China again showed its growing sophistication by launching an antisatellite missile, destroying a satellite in space. They have also launched two- and three-man crews into orbit.
In 1997, after 156 years of British rule, Hong Kong was handed over to Beijing’s Communist leaders. They began the tricky task of managing one of the world’s most sophisticated modern economies and 6 million people who were immersed in capitalism.
Today, China’s growing urbanization, gargantuan global manufacturing operation, technological advancement and major military spending and output position it for growing global influence.
Growing economic influence
“China’s population of 1.3 billion makes it the most populous nation on earth with a fifth of the world’s people. It is estimated that by 2025, China will have the world’s largest middle class” (Foreign Policy, March/April 2008).
China’s high growth rate, low labor costs and a huge emerging market have attracted the world’s highest levels of direct foreign investment.
“Over the past 20 years, China has made an unprecedented leap from being the world’s tenth-biggest economy to becoming number two. Its GDP has increased by an average of almost 10% a year for the past 30 years” (Pam Woodall, The World in 2010, 2009). In 2010 “its exports will reach 10% of world trade” (ibid.). It has $1.5 trillion in reserves, is the largest holder of U.S. government debt and is America’s second-largest trading partner.
China’s economy will likely grow by 8.3 percent in 2009 and 10.9 percent in 2010, while the world economy will grow by just 3.3 percent in 2010. China’s economy could overtake the United States in less than 20 years (“Crisis Speeds BRIC Rise to Power,” Reuters, June 2009).
China has the world’s second largest navy and the largest standing armed forces with over 2.25 million troops. They have integrated former Soviet weapons technology with advanced Western manufacturing.
China recently became the world’s second biggest military spender behind the United States. According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, “China is continuing to acquire both domestic and foreign arms as it seeks to equip its armed forces for conditions of modern ‘informationalized’ warfare” (Nov. 7, 2009). China employs sophisticated precision weapons, high-tech information and communications technology. While global arms spending rose 4 percent in 2008, China’s grew by 10 percent to an estimated $84.9 billion.
The Center for Security Studies (CSS) reported, “According to official sources, defense spending has increased by an inflation-adjusted 300 percent over the past decade” (“The Rise of China: Regional and Global Power Shifts,” CSS Analyses in Security Policy, February 2007).
Christopher Foss, editor of Jane’s Armour and Artillery, was recently quoted in London’s Telegraph: “China is a highly manoeuverable force able to operate anywhere as good if not better than Western armies” (“China Aims for Military Might,” Sept. 28. 2009). By 2015 China will likely possess six Jin-class submarines with the capacity “of firing the JL2 ballistic nuclear missile that could threaten both the western and eastern American seaboards” (ibid., emphasis added). The Economist reports that China “has a few dozen land-based nuclear missiles capable of hitting some or all parts of America” (“Overkill,” Oct. 22, 2009).
China’s need for fuel and other natural resources has increased its interest in creating international relationships. It is the world’s second largest consumer of oil (following America), with proven oil reserves of about half that of the United States (“BP Statistical Review of World Energy,” June 2009).
China began importing oil in 1993 and “by 2025, imports will account for 75 percent of China’s oil consumption” (China Institute of Contemporary International Relations, October 2007). “In 15 years, China is expected to surpass the US as the world’s largest spender on oil and natural gas” (“ExxonMobil to Boost Mainland Sales,” China Daily, Nov. 12, 2009).
The largest source of China’s oil is the Middle East, providing about half of its needs (U.S. Government Energy Information Administration, July 2009). This growing dependency has led to investing in energy in several countries in the region including Sudan, Iran and Syria. It is a favored trading partner and established the China-Arab Cooperation Forum to build closer relationships. It negotiates with the Gulf Cooperation Council members. Its recent energy deal with Tehran for $100 billion was harshly criticized by the United States (CSS Analyses in Security Policy).
What happens in China today is critical to the future of our world. China’s amazing economic, political and military transformation over the past three decades is astounding and will likely have far-reaching effects on the end-time events leading to Christ’s return.
The Bible reveals that at the time of the end, during the Great Tribulation, the world will be dominated by a commercial, political and military union of 10 kings that combine power with the “beast” for a short period of time (Revelation 17:12-14 Revelation 17:12-14  And the ten horns which you saw are ten kings, which have received no kingdom as yet; but receive power as kings one hour with the beast.
 These have one mind, and shall give their power and strength to the beast.
 These shall make war with the Lamb, and the Lamb shall overcome them: for he is Lord of lords, and King of kings: and they that are with him are called, and chosen, and faithful.
American King James Version×).
The prophet Daniel refers to this power as the king of the North (Daniel 11:40 Daniel 11:40And at the time of the end shall the king of the south push at him: and the king of the north shall come against him like a whirlwind, with chariots, and with horsemen, and with many ships; and he shall enter into the countries, and shall overflow and pass over.
American King James Version×). He will sweep down with major military force, occupying Jerusalem and much of the Middle East in response to aggressive actions by the king of the South (verses 40-43). “But news from the east and the north [of Jerusalem] shall trouble him; therefore he shall go out with great fury to destroy and annihilate many” (verse 44, emphasis added throughout).
Revelation 9:13-19 Revelation 9:13-19  And the sixth angel sounded, and I heard a voice from the four horns of the golden altar which is before God,
 Saying to the sixth angel which had the trumpet, Loose the four angels which are bound in the great river Euphrates.
 And the four angels were loosed, which were prepared for an hour, and a day, and a month, and a year, for to slay the third part of men.
 And the number of the army of the horsemen were two hundred thousand thousand: and I heard the number of them.
 And thus I saw the horses in the vision, and them that sat on them, having breastplates of fire, and of jacinth, and brimstone: and the heads of the horses were as the heads of lions; and out of their mouths issued fire and smoke and brimstone.
 By these three was the third part of men killed, by the fire, and by the smoke, and by the brimstone, which issued out of their mouths.
 For their power is in their mouth, and in their tails: for their tails were like to serpents, and had heads, and with them they do hurt.
American King James Version×reveals that a massive 200-million-man army will arise from the region east of the Euphrates River. They are prepared for battle and ride on what the author John describes as horses with heads like lions that spew out fire, smoke and brimstone. “By these three plagues a third of mankind was killed” (verse 18).
This appears to be John’s best effort to describe the modern warfare he was seeing in vision. The description given and the massive numbers of deaths may indicate the use of modern weapons of mass destruction (verse 19).
At the time John wrote, the eastern border of the Roman Empire was the Euphrates River, which begins in Turkey and bisects Syria and Iraq before emptying into the Persian Gulf. The countries involved with the kings of the North and South are located west of this river. From where does this massive army of the East arise?
Currently China is the major power east of Jerusalem. It has the capacity to form the nucleus of a massive army, has the fastest growing economy, spends a large percentage of its annual GDP on the military and possesses nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction. In addition, it is creating close ties with other Asian nations as well as many in the Middle East.
It is also possible that a multinational Islamic force from countries along or to the north and east of the Euphrates will join forces. This could include nations like Turkey, Syria, Iraq, Iran, Pakistan, Afghanistan and India. India has the world’s second-largest Muslim population, even though most of its citizens are Hindus.
A regional threat could provoke some or all of these nations to come together to fight a common foe. The aggressive military actions of the king of the North could rally them to form a massive counterforce. Even a threat to the Persian Gulf oil supply, upon which many Asian nations rely, could provoke a military response.
These events are followed by a continued buildup of the eastern powers as we see in Revelation 16:12 Revelation 16:12And the sixth angel poured out his vial on the great river Euphrates; and the water thereof was dried up, that the way of the kings of the east might be prepared.
American King James Version×: “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 more than one king is involved.
This may be a second phase of the overall operation begun earlier at the blowing of the sixth of the “seven trumpets” (Revelation 8:6 Revelation 8:6And the seven angels which had the seven trumpets prepared themselves to sound.
American King James Version×; 9:13-21). The trumpets are followed by the “seven last plagues” or “seven golden bowls full of the wrath of God” (15:1, 7), the sixth of which includes the drying up the Euphrates (16:12). Each of these bowls of wrath appear to fall quickly one after another as the Great Tribulation comes to a close and armies of the kings of the “whole world” gather at Armageddon (verses 14-16) before they battle the returning Jesus Christ at Jerusalem 55 miles south (19:17-21; Joel 3:9-14 Joel 3:9-14  Proclaim you this among the Gentiles; Prepare war, wake up the mighty men, let all the men of war draw near; let them come up:  Beat your plowshares into swords and your pruning hooks into spears: let the weak say, I am strong.  Assemble yourselves, and come, all you heathen, and gather yourselves together round about: thither cause your mighty ones to come down, O LORD.  Let the heathen be wakened, and come up to the valley of Jehoshaphat: for there will I sit to judge all the heathen round about.  Put you in the sickle, for the harvest is ripe: come, get you down; for the press is full, the fats overflow; for their wickedness is great.  Multitudes, multitudes in the valley of decision: for the day of the LORD is near in the valley of decision.
American King James Version×).
For more information on the trumpets and last plagues of Revelation, request or download The Book of Revelation Unveiled. For an overview of the grand sweep of prophecy, also request or download You Can Understand Bible Prophecy.