China’s Diplomatic Conquest of Southeast Asia

Another strategic region the United States has lost

The covid-19 pandemic disrupted world trade, caused financial crises, and destabilized governments around the world. But it was also a moment of great opportunity. China used the chaos and instability of the pandemic to aggressively pursue its geopolitical ambitions. The region where it was particularly successful was Southeast Asia: the region south of China, east of India, and north of Australia. It is filled with strategically important islands, naval bases and trade routes. Control of and influence in this region are directly linked to world power.

“China found opportunity in adversity,” wrote the Diplomat. “It acted to meet the region’s needs through broad diplomatic and material support, looking outward while the [United States] and its allies were mostly looking inward. China’s ability to respond early, to craft a resonant message, to maintain trade flows, and to show up in person created favorable impressions that have persisted even as the U.S. and others catch up.” China provided 7 million of its Sinovac vaccine to nine of the hardest-hit Southeast Asian nations before the U.S. provided its first vaccine shipment.

As the United States shut down its economy, China was able to keep its trade and manufacturing open to the rest of the world. Southeast Asia is a major manufacturing hub for medical supplies, household goods, semiconductors, copper and palm oil. With supply chains for goods so complex, China is increasingly a key link in these chains. The U.S. and Europe demanded more of these products in lockdowns, and China enabled Southeast Asia to supply these goods. Vietnam, Indonesia and Malaysia in particular benefited by this increase in demand.

At the same time, China orchestrated a propaganda and diplomatic strategy in Southeast Asia to show Beijing as a “responsible” partner. While the United States stopped in-person diplomatic meetings during the pandemic, China had 32 in-person visits and hosted 23 visits by ministers from Southeast Asian countries. This diplomatic blitz strengthened ties to Beijing while Washington remained largely on the sidelines.

“China’s natural advantages and regional prioritization mean its influence with Southeast Asia will continue to grow relative to other major partners,” the Diplomat warned. “Some experts from Southeast Asia warned against assuming that growing Chinese influence would fatally undermine the region’s ‘automatic and deeply ingrained’ instinct for preserving its autonomy. But others were more worried, arguing that ‘the space for Southeast Asian agency is slowly closing in.’” China’s pandemic diplomacy is widening the sphere of Chinese influence beyond aggressive measures they have already taken.

For years China has been solidifying control over the Spratly Islands, which lie in the middle of the southern approach of the South China Sea. These islands have long been a point of friction between the nations of Southeast Asia because of their vast, untapped oil field potential and strategic location. China unilaterally built artificial islands and platforms to establish air landing strips, antiaircraft batteries and antiship missiles in the area.

Trumpet editor in chief Gerald Flurry drew attention to the importance of China’s seizure of the Spratly Islands in “China Is Steering the World Toward War,” writing:

The Spratly Islands are claimed by the Philippines, Malaysia, Taiwan and Vietnam. China is ignoring these nations’ territorial claims. China is being aggressive and provocative.

These militarized islands now function as forward bases for Beijing to challenge seven decades of American naval dominance in the Pacific Rim. This should alarm the world!

Each year, $5.3 trillion of trade passes through the South China Sea. That is roughly one third of the world’s maritime commerce! Since Japan’s defeat in World War ii, America has protected this vital trade route and brought peace to this part of the world. Now the American military is retreating, and other great powers are coming in to fill the vacuum. This is going to dramatically affect trade around the world, and U.S. trade especially.

Uncontested Chinese control over the Spratly Islands, and other vital Southeast Asian choke points, could dramatically upend the balance of power. “China is intimidating the nations of Southeast Asia into submission to its will,” Mr. Flurry wrote. “It is forcing these countries to do what it wants. Everything is headed in the direction of war.” John Collins writes in his textbook Military Geography that militarizing these islands could lead to wider conflict:

Prospects that China might seek sovereignty over the entire South China Sea, as its spokesmen repeatedly imply, couples strategic with economic friction, because lifelines between Middle East oil fields and Northeast Asia pass through this body of water. Reconciliation of disputes in the Spratlys, perhaps by military means, consequently could some day have destabilizing effects that reach far beyond the immediate region.

One third of world trade passes through the South China Sea. All of the manufactured goods from Southeast Asia, the semiconductors needed for all American electronics, and all of the Middle East oil supplying Japan and Korea pass through this vital choke point. If China chose to disrupt international trade, and use its control in the South China Sea in a trade war, it could completely change the world order.

Following World War ii, America was the sole superpower in the Pacific. Having conquered Japan, the U.S. established powerful military bases in Okinawa and the Japanese mainland. Gen. Douglas MacArthur’s liberation of the Philippines during World War ii, and then pushing back North Korea past Seoul in the Korean War, also gave America two more friendly countries from which to establish military operations. Yet soon after the disastrous Korean War in which the U.S. failed to confront Communist China, U.S. leadership made a series of tragic decisions that eroded this powerful position.

In March 1954, the French Army in Vietnam was hemmed in at the town of Dien Bien Phu. The Viet Minh troops had been fighting against the French since 1946. (The French had held Vietnam as a colony since 1885.) The Viet Minh were being supported by China and the Soviet Union, and the French were supported by the United States. However, the war had gone poorly for the French, who were besieged behind the fortifications at Dien Bien Phu. The French asked U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower for direct help to save their army, but he declined, stating that the age of colonial empires was over. The French Army was decimated, and the country was divided into the north Communist zone and the democratic southern zone.

Just one year later, Vietnam erupted into civil war, and in 1961 America was officially drawn into the conflict. However, the mighty U.S. could not conquer North Vietnam, and America retreated in 1973, with the North conquering the South entirely in 1975. This was a major blow to American prestige in the Pacific and was the beginning of America losing its grip in Southeast Asia. When the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, China took the lead in pushing back against American power in the Pacific.

Yet the bases in the northern Pacific have been stable. As of 2021, Japan has 120 U.S. military bases with nearly 54,000 troops, while South Korea has 73 bases with nearly 30,000 troops stationed. In fact, these two nations were the bastion of American power in the Pacific. Military Geography writes: “The most beneficial U.S. bases east of Suez congregated in the Philippines, Korea, Japan and Okinawa. Together, they permitted U.S. Pacific Command to maintain a powerful military presence and stabilizing influence west of Pearl Harbor and Guam.”

The Philippines in particular was vital for the U.S. Navy because it allowed the Navy to straddle strategic Pacific lines of communications by being located in the middle of the region, not on the outer rim. It gave the U.S. Navy the ability to intervene in the South China Sea and Indian Ocean. The relations with the Philippines diminished in the early 1990s and the U.S. withdrew personnel, and its Navy bases there are no longer used except during exercises with the Philippine Navy. In the long term, this has proved to be a disastrous decision because the South China Sea is the Achilles’ heel for the survival of Japan and Korea.

In 2016, 90 percent of Japan and South Korea’s oil was shipped through the South China Sea. While these two nations have remained staunch allies of the United States, China could use its control over that sea gate to bring them into alignment with it. If the U.S. ever left Japan and South Korea, it would lose the entire Pacific.

The Chinese pressure doesn’t stop there. China recently signed a defense agreement with the Solomon Islands in the South Pacific, 2,000 miles from Australia. Kiribati and the Marshall Islands, south of Hawaii, recently announced their withdrawal from the U.S.-backed Pacific Islands Forum. China is currently working on plans to upgrade an airstrip on Kiribati. If this plan is successful, China would have a fixed aircraft carrier in the south Pacific, cutting off the vital sea lanes from Pearl Harbor to Australia and the South Pacific region.

This worst case scenario—the United States losing control over the Pacific, strategic sea lanes and all vital allies—is exactly what the Bible prophesies will happen shortly. Deuteronomy 28:52 warns that the modern nations of Israel will suffer from a trade siege. The late Herbert W. Armstrong proved in The United States and Britain in Prophecy that these modern Israelite nations include the United States and British Commonwealth.

Mr. Flurry wrote: “This prophecy is being fulfilled before our eyes! America’s enemies are securing shipping lanes and creating economic alliances that will very soon enable them to choke off America’s supply lines. Soon America will find it impossible to import oil and other necessities.” This economic siege will begin the prophesied Great Tribulation (Matthew 24:21), and it is coordinated by what Isaiah 23 calls a “mart of nations.”

This power bloc is an alliance of several nations against the United States, Britain and the Jewish state of Israel. The “mart of nations” will include a German-led Holy Roman Empire in Europe, South America, and the “kings of the east,” which includes Russia, China, Japan and Southeast Asia. Mr. Flurry wrote: “The United States and Britain are going to be left out in the cold as two gigantic trade blocs, Europe and Asia, mesh together and begin calling the shots in world commerce. These nations of Israel are going to be literally besiegedeconomically frozen out of world trade!” This will cause chaos and destruction in the nations of Israel.

This is where China’s control over Southeast Asia is leading. This prophecy is coming to pass very quickly. China will continue to grow more powerful in the Pacific as America declines. Before these dire prophecies have fully come to pass, you can know what will happen and what actions you should take. Despite these sober tidings, good news is just around the corner.

To learn more, please read our article “China Is Steering the World Toward War” and our free book Ezekiel—The End-Time Prophet.