China’s Three-Card Trick

In less than three years, the most populous nation on earth has seized a hat-trick of strategic sea gates. How will this affect global events in the new century?
From the January 2000 Trumpet Print Edition

Back in the 1960s era of Mao’s revolutionary China, who could have foreseen this populous, Third World nation emerging as key controller to the vital choke points of international trade, East to West and West to East, by the dawn of this new century? Well, it’s happened. Not only that. It’s happened with the connivance and seemingly innate desire to be rid of the responsibility to strategically control these great sea gates by the powers that held them successively for the entire previous century. In fact, in the case of Macao, the Portuguese have held this island crossroads for over 4½ centuries.

Historic Enclave

Lying on the southern coast of China, at the mouth of the Zhu river, Macao is a tiny Portuguese-administered enclave about one tenth the size of Washington D.C. Its relatively flat and barren landscape offers little arable land, the highest point being Coloane Alto at just 174 meters. It has negligible natural resources. A single causeway and two bridges connect the two islands of Coloane and Taipa to the mainland peninsula. Macao’s modern international airport, built on reclaimed land, lies offshore connected by taxiways to the island of Taipa.

Exhibiting magnificent examples of elegant Portuguese architecture, standing cheek to jowl with modern structures, Macao’s economy is largely driven by tourism, yielding 25 percent of gross domestic product with 40 percent of gdp coming from gambling. The clothing industry accounts for around two thirds of the enclave’s export earnings, with toy-making and fireworks manufacture making up most of the rest. Macao is a historic legacy of the Portuguese traders who, following in explorer Vasco da Gama’s steps, pioneered the maritime route from Europe to the Orient. They carried on a lucrative trade, bearing goods between Japan, China and the rest of the world.

Situated on the western side of the famous Pearl River, with Hong Kong occupying the eastern shoreline of the river’s mouth, Macao was, prior to the arrival of the British, a site of strategic commercial importance. Just 70 miles upstream from Macao lies the great commercial metropolis of Canton. This city is the sea gateway to China and capital of the twin provinces of Kwangtung (Guangdong) and Kwangsi (Guangxi). The Pearl River estuary upon which the city of Canton is situated is known for ease of access to shipping. The British maritime publication “Admiralty Pilot” declared in 1864 that the approach to Canton via the Pearl River mouth was “probably more safe than any other large river in the world.”

China’s granting of a lease on Macao to the Portuguese in 1557 gave them a most strategic locale upon which to site a trade center and supply station for the Portuguese traders.

Their first ships to visit China found readily available anchorage in the lee of the Macao peninsula, where the Chinese allowed them to settle. At the time of the arrival of the Europeans, the Pearl River had been one of the most important commercial waterways in the world for a thousand years. This was due to the prevailing weather systems which favor ships coming from the west between April and October and assist their return voyage November to April. The Pearl River is the first safe haven in China for vessels making the dangerous passage from the West to the Orient.

With the establishment of a post of the East India company on Hong Kong Island in 1711, Macao slid into decline. As with much of the British Empire, Hong Kong was acquired seemingly by accident. Yet as our long-time readers know, it was, in essence, a gift of God. The strategic sea-gate of Hong Kong was simply granted to the British, along with other appurtenances of empire, seemingly, as has been observed, “acquired in a fit of absence of mind,” in fulfillment by God of the birthright promises to the nations of biblical Ephraim, the British peoples.

The rest is history. While Macao languished, the bare, precipitous and barren rocky island of Hong Kong was developed over the ensuing 286 years into a prime financial and commercial center of the world, with its combined gdp eventually outstripping that of its mother country, Great Britain. Then, in what has been described as the last great British imperial moment, at midnight, June 30, 1997, millions the world over watched as the Union Flag was lowered for the last time on a rain-soaked night from the dais on Hong Kong’s waterfront. China took possession of the British sovereign port of Hong Kong.

Destroyers of Empire

Yet the yielding up of sovereign territory by Britain was to only momentarily precede, by barely 2½ years, the giving away of American-owned territory in Panama, and that which was the sovereign possession of Portugal, the port of Macao. And all three strategic centers have gone to the same nation—China! China, which in the latter half of this past century slaughtered 20 million of its own people in their most “inspired” schemes of change—the Hundred Flowers Blooming Campaign of 1956, the Great Leap Forward of 1958 and, beginning 1966, the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution. In the course of these massive debacles, a great part of Chinese heritage was destroyed. Then, in 1989, came Tiananmen Square. And this is the nation we are trusting with two of the world’s major choke points? How naïve!

Yet, once again, we have to be reminded that we can expect little else from our Western foreign policy gurus. For the great Creator who rules the universe has predicted that those who lead the nations of Israel (primarily the British and American peoples) cause us to err (Isa. 3:12). They have as much vision as a small, unschooled child (Isa. 3:4).

Take a look at the foreign policy disaster that our Western leaders have brought upon us since God gave us the victory in the two horrifying world wars of the past century. Look, consider and believe the supremely visionary words of your Maker!

Do you really understand what Britain and America have done? The Macao handover may seem small cheese; yet, with Hong Kong already in the bag, it just strengthens the case for the drawing of Taiwan into China’s maw! While the West commanded sovereign territory astride the Pearl River, a gateway to China, we held the strategic upper hand over the incredibly inhumane governments of that country. We’ve now gifted them right of passage, unfettered, clear across from the mouth of the Pearl to the greatest gateway between the Pacific and Atlantic oceans—Panama; gifted to a maverick nation, possessing nuclear power, a dedicated enemy of the West, declared enemy of the United States, murderer of its own peoples on a massive scale!

These supremely strategic gifts to an enemy of the Western world are akin to the prospect of the tiny nation of Israel giving away part of its most strategic landholding—the Golan Heights! Same mindset!

As Caspar Weinberger, foreign secretary to former President Reagan, has inferred, any nation given control over a major sea gate would be crazy not to exercise their strategic options to turn the use of that sea gate to their own advantage! “Former Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger on Tuesday joined a chorus of conservatives warning that China may be preparing to assume control of the Panama Canal, a development that he said would imperil U.S. security. It would be illogical for China to ‘pass up a chance to acquire a major foothold in one of the world’s three major choke points—especially if it can be done with little cost or risk,’ Weinberger said in a [recent] statement” (Associated Press, Dec. 7, 1999).

Yet, the Panama Canal Commission blindly responds through U.S. board member Vince Ryan, “These particular people are trying to rekindle cold war paranoia, and ignoring a new millennium dynamic. We are not in 1900, we are not a colonial power, we need to have partnership with the nations of Latin America, and we need to be very aggressive in making sure that we are working in partnership with Panama on a diplomatic level, on a military level because there are needs that we both have for security in that region, and on an economic level” (emphasis mine).

No mention here of China controlling the entrance and exit to the canal through Hutchinson Whampoa’s possession of the ports at either end! Mr. Ryan should be reminded that the cold war was not so much a paranoia as a 40-year reality, and that since the collapse of the Soviet Union ended the standoff between the dominant superpowers, no international mechanism currently exists to balance the power between nations! As for China, 50 years of recent history has shown that it will treat the rest of the world with impunity when condemned for its occasional international threats or its inhumanity to its own people.

With the yielding up of Macao by the Portuguese, China has the hat trick of the century in hand—Hong Kong, Panama, Macao. The symbolism of the actions by Britain and America in yielding up Hong Kong and Panama is capped off by the sense of history buried with the signing over of Macao, the first sea gateway to Asia exploited by the West, 450 years after the Caucasians commenced their flirtation with the Asians.

For the Chinese, the handing over of Macao symbolizes, once and for all, severance with the colonial influences which impacted its history since the arrival of Vasco da Gama. The true sentiments of the People’s Republic of China (prc) are summed up by a local journalist: “On December 20, the last trace of colonialism will be removed from China. On that day, all the disgrace and humiliation suffered by the Chinese people and the People’s Republic during last century will be replaced by pride and dignity. China has been waiting 446 years for that day” (Washington Post, Dec. 13, 1999).

According to Professor Zhang Wenqing, during the 450 years of Portuguese occupation, Macao became a recurring theme in Chinese patriotic poetry, with 100 poems being written specifically about the enclave. Though there is strategic value to the prc gaining control of both sides of the mouth of the Pearl River entrance, it is the deep symbolism of the Macao handover signaling final severance from Western presence on their soil, that is most tangible to the Chinese peoples.

Final Facade

Since the mid-1980s when the Macao handover was negotiated, the Portuguese engaged in a flurry of reconstruction and renovation to preserve Macao’s historic baroque and colonial architecture. Many fine facades were preserved in the city, with more functional modern buildings erected behind them. The Portuguese well know the destruction of heritage wreaked by the prc on its own ancient structures in mainland China since the revolution. China has a poor record when it comes to historic preservation.

Yet, there is one political facade that leaped into view as Macao was handed over by the Portuguese in official ceremonies on December 20—that of “one China, two systems.”

The “one country, two systems” facade was touted by China in its effort to woo Hong Kong back into its fold. The same song was sung to the Portuguese, giving a communist guarantee to Macao that its system of localized government, commerce and culture would continue for 50 years following its submission to mainland control. Trouble is, communist guarantees are renowned for being as hollow as Chinese bamboo.

It is under this facade of “one country, two systems” that the prc now turns its full attention to drawing, or clawing if necessary, Taiwan back into its maw.

Too often foreign policy gurus and geopolitical analysts ignore the deep importance of symbolism in international affairs. Why did Germany spend $10.8 billion on relocating its government headquarters from Bonn to Berlin last year? For the same reason that the Chinese spent billions of yuan on lavish celebrations marking the 50th anniversary of the founding of the prc last October.

Germany is battling entrenched unemployment and the huge financial burden of unification with a reconstruction of East Germany. China has millions out of work as a result of painful economic reforms. Yet both these countries spent multiple billions on singular events which only added to their national debt. Why? The answer is symbolism. Berlin is simply symbolic of Germany’s historic imperial federalist past. That’s an important symbol to the once divided German nation. The 50th anniversary of the founding of modern republican China is deeply symbolic of national unity to this nation whose history, like Germany’s, was one of many fractured fiefdoms, dynasties and provinces.

So it is with the handover of Macao. The importance of this event is deeply embedded in that which it symbolizes. Macao was Europe’s last colonial outpost. Beijing has, for decades, held to its “sacred mission” to reunite the country. Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Zhang Qiyue declared to a news conference prior to the handover, “Macao’s handover is another important step towards the country’s reunification.” Note, she did not say it is the final step. One more step remains, across the Taiwan straits to old Formosa, the island of Taiwan. If the passing of Macao from Portuguese to Chinese rule is symbolic of the burial of European colonial influence in China, then the impending takeover of Taiwan is deeply symbolic of mending its final rift.

“Macao’s return is an important step in the reunification of the motherland.” So declared giant hoardings across China in the vanguard of Macao’s handover.

President Jiang Zemin told communist party leaders who attended a ceremony to wave him off to Macao for the handover ceremonies, “The successful practice of the ‘one country, two systems’ idea in Hong Kong and Macao will serve as a model for the solution of the Taiwan issue, and facilitate the nation’s complete reunification” (The Australian, Dec. 20, 1999). Still the prc hides its true intent: to communize Hong Kong, Macao and Taiwan behind this specious facade.

Barely hours after the handover ceremonies consummating at midnight, December 19, hundreds of People’s Liberation Army troops rumbled across the Macao border in trucks and armored personnel carriers into the enclave, the same show of military strength that Hong Kong received following the hauling down of the Union Jack for the last time in June 1997.

Bereft of friends, let down by its former ally, the U.S., to whom it gave allegiance in World War II, Taiwan sits waiting for the gathering storm, waiting for the pla troops to rumble into Taipei.

China’s three-card trick, the handover of Hong Kong and Macao to China plus the giving away of the port facilities on the Panama Canal to Chinese enterprise, all under the careless eye of the world’s single great nation, the former superpower America, will soon be trumped by the royal flush of the Taiwan takeover.