The Collapsing ‘China Fantasy’
Feng Li/Getty Images
More than two centuries ago, Napoleon Bonaparte nicknamed China the “Sleeping Dragon” and advised the Europeans of his day not to awaken it. Today, the dragon is wide awake, and the dynamic changes it has undergone are astounding.
Few international relations developments have been as epic and consequential as the exploding increase of China’s political power, military muscle, cultural influence and, towering above all, economic capacity. And all of the monumental growth began with the liberalization of China’s economy, when Beijing abandoned the Maoist economic planning model and transformed more than 100 million oppressed peasants from the “Great Leap Forward” into a colossal middle class.
Since China’s first steps toward this economic liberalization 35 years ago, Western political and commercial leaders have celebrated the trend. The assumption was that Beijing’s rapid integration into the global economy would lead China to replace its oppressive and authoritarian political ideologies with responsible international behavior, and that the nation’s burgeoning middle class would be granted greater political rights.
In short, the West believed that China’s rise would become a boon to the whole world. Based on this belief, Western nations pursued policies of engagement with Beijing and worked to facilitate China’s growth. James Mann’s 2008 book of the same name identified the pervasive Western optimism toward the Middle Kingdom as the “China Fantasy.”
But decades after Beijing’s first moves toward economic liberalization, the popular assumptions are coming under question. Westerners are beginning to grasp a truth that the Trumpet and its predecessor, the Plain Truth, have proclaimed for decades: China’s rise means trouble on the global stage, especially for Europe.
“When China wakes up,” Bonaparte said, “the world will shake.” Westerners are now beginning to sober up to the implications of China’s multiplying power.
China Then and Now
The China of the mid-20th century was unmistakably hostile to the West. Under Maoist rule, the proclaimed constitutional goal of the Chinese Communist Party (ccp) was to eradicate capitalism from the planet. But the country was in an ideological stupor. It was too mired in the fetid swamps of Maoism to pose a real threat or advance toward its goal.
A set of political and diplomatic events in the early 1970s prompted a reversal in the hostile international relations between China and its capitalist rivals, and moved Chinese leaders to launch an economic reform in 1978. Political leader Deng Xiaoping replaced the previous autarkic model with the opening-up strategy, and China’s export-oriented industries started to boom.
Since then, the growth rate has averaged a sizzling 9.8 percent per year. The number of citizens living in poverty has plummeted from 250 million to 14 million.
In April of 2009, China Reform Forum Chairman Li Jingtian gave the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace a startling collection of statistics illustrating his country’s meteoric growth between 1978 and 2008. During that period, China’s overall foreign trade blossomed from $20.6 billion to $2.56 trillion, its foreign exchange reserves skyrocketed from $167 million to $1.95 trillion, and foreign investment leaped to more than $100 billion. In 1978, only 52 Chinese students were studying abroad. By 2008, that number had risen to 1.36 million students matriculating in 109 countries.
This August, news of China dominated headlines when it was revealed that China’s economic output, for the first time, had overtaken that of Japan to become second only to the U.S. The World Bank and other analysts say that, even though its economy is presently only one third as large, China will overtake the U.S. in no more than a decade.
The deep economic impacts of the reform make it easy to see why China’s ascendancy as a world power was, until recently, a globally celebrated story of success. But China’s newfound economic clout has enabled it to act with a growing geopolitical assertiveness—a trend that is beginning to disillusion many observers, especially in the West.
A growing list of grievances has onlookers on both sides of the Atlantic reevaluating their stance on China’s rise: the ccp’s refusal to liberalize the nation’s political system; Beijing’s behavior at last year’s Copenhagen climate change summit; China’s tarnished human rights record; its heavy-handed political repression; Beijing’s support for tyrannical Third World regimes in a rapacious drive for resources; its obstinacy over Iran’s nuclear program; its military build-up; its soft power build-up; its increasingly belligerent claim to sovereignty over the entire South China Sea—and the list goes on.
The fantasy was that the budding economic freedoms would become a boon for the world economy. The reality is that, as China gains power, it only becomes more antagonistic toward the West, more oppressive, and more authoritarian.
Starry-eyed geopolitical forecasters have to come to terms with a sobering reality: China is an authoritarian economic behemoth with little in common with the West except an appetite for resources. It has always been oppressive and belligerent, but its insularity and weakness made it harmless. Pundits are beginning to understand that Beijing’s newfound power will enable it to project its same old communist and nationalistic ideologies with far greater force. China has not liberalized its society as the West had hoped, and it has not become a responsible member of the international community.
The fantasy is collapsing.
Feeding the Dragon
The speed at which China’s economy is growing is staggering and historically unprecedented. As it wakes up from its long slumber, China is bent on consumption, consumption and more consumption. On July 19, International Energy Agency (iea) chief economist Fatih Birol said, “In the year 2000, the U.S. consumed twice as much energy as China; now, China consumes more than the U.S.”
China is presently growing at five times the speed of the U.S. economy. Data released by the iea in July shows that, at some point in 2009, China overtook the U.S. to become the world’s largest energy consumer. To sustain explosive growth on such a mind-boggling scale, a country requires resources—vast expanses of resources.
In 2007, China was a net exporter of coal. This year it will import between 105 and 115 million tons of coal, putting it on track to overtake Japan as the world’s largest coal importer. In recent years, China has also become the world’s leading consumer of rice, meal, wheat, fertilizer, steel and cement. Twelve years ago, China was a net exporter of oil. Today, it is Saudi Arabia’s largest oil customer and the number-two global importer after the U.S.
Although the U.S. economy is “mature,” its energy consumption continues to increase. Despite China’s gargantuan size, it is a developing economy—an “economic toddler” that is growing rapidly. If China’s appetite for energy doubled in the past decade, how will it change in the next 10 years?
The projected 2015 Chinese middle class—600 million strong—will be twice the size of America’s current population. To meet the country’s skyrocketing demands, China’s leaders have launched an astounding global outreach program. They have laid myriad inroads throughout Latin America, Africa, the Middle East and Asia, paying particular attention to nations with substantial reserves of oil and natural gas such as Nigeria, Venezuela and Kazakhstan. Beijing’s preference for resource-rich nations includes third-tier countries the West typically ignores. These developing countries have voting rights in international organizations, so Beijing cultivates relations with them, forgiving billions in loans and lavishing them with infrastructure projects, asking only for their voting support in return.
Unlike Berlin or Washington, Beijing does not entwine its development assistance to conditions of “good governance.” While Western powers sermonize and punish authoritarian actions by withholding aid or even effecting regime change, China constructs palaces for tyrants and builds summer villas for despots. It guarantees them territorial integrity regardless of any human rights violations they may be committing.
Decades ago, Chinese Marxist revolutionary Mao Tse Tung promised his people that “All that the West has, China will have.” China’s historically unprecedented growth—and the ethical low road it travels to sustain it—is evidence that Mao’s words still resonate clearly in the Chinese mindset.
China’s frenetic drive for resources is intensifying the global scramble for the planet’s wealth. As Europe and other powers watch China devour a rapidly increasing proportion of resources, they are provoked to tighten the grip on their own supply channels.
On June 15, the Inter Press Service reported on the 25th Africa-France summit held in Nice, writing that French President Nicolas Sarkozy declared it was time for Europe to fight to increase its influence in Africa before China devours the African pie. As China’s global footprint grows, other nations, especially in Europe, will assume a more combative stance in securing resources for themselves. When more than one power aggressively pursues the world’s wealth with such ferocity, intense competition results and eventually gives way to war.
War Between East and West
More than 2,500 years ago, the Prophet Daniel was inspired to write that in this modern age, “tidings out of the east and out of the north shall trouble [German-led Europe].” The northern threat mentioned here is Russia, and the eastern power is China. (To understand the details of these astounding prophecies, request Russia and China in Prophecy and Germany and the Holy Roman Empire.)
While Russian power has been formidable for centuries, China, until it industrialized, presented no genuine threat to the West. Sure, it was belligerent, but it was a belligerent grasshopper. Now, in the early stages of fulfilling Daniel’s prophecies, China is a belligerent dragon—a reality that has Europe on edge.
When the United States inevitably succumbs to its weaknesses and fades off the grid, Europe will be the world’s only superpower—except for China. Absent America, Europe would stand alone as the world’s sole superpower, if not for this one menacing threat that has become a juggernaut in a spectacularly short span of time. China is the one powerful civilization on the planet most opposed to European values and modes of thinking. And, very soon, China alone will threaten EU hegemony. If the U.S. had decomposed two decades ago, there would have been no nation to counter Europe. Now, there’s an angry, menacing power to ally with Russia and fulfill that role.
As the “China Fantasy” collapses and disillusionment hits the West, more and more European voices are expressing concern about Beijing’s growing assertiveness. Sino-German relations veered into difficult terrain in 2007 when German Chancellor Angela Merkel rebuked China’s human rights record. In June 2010, Sarkozy admonished Europeans to fight to keep pace with China’s rapacious resource procurement in Africa. In a July 2010 meeting with Chinese President Wen Jiabao, two leading German industrialists attacked China’s business environment, which they said was disadvantageous to non-Chinese firms. Also in July, the German DerSpiegel published a scathing report on the threat to the West posed by China’s mushrooming soft power in Southeast Asia. An August 2010 Pentagon report warned that China is using its growing wealth to develop its military power.
Clearly, Western concern is amplifying and the rift between East and West is growing broader.
The Power of Prophecy
The geopolitical realities of the world have sharply shifted as a result of China’s rise as much as because of America’s decline. Because it is easier to discern than Europe’s rise, China’s ascendancy to juggernaut status is among the starkest prophetic trends of the last two decades. And it is a powerful, ongoing reminder of the accuracy and inevitability of Bible prophecies.
While the “China Fantasy” duped many Western political and commercial elites, those following Bible prophecy would have never been taken in by the illusion. Longtime Trumpet readers would not have been taken in by the delusion that China’s rise was good news for the world, even when the situation looked most promising. They would have known the true purpose of China’s rise all along: to check Europe.
Right now, it’s easy for the world to finally see what students of prophecy have long understood. When Herbert W. Armstrong identified China as one of the key pillars of the biblical “kings of the east,” it took faith to believe it. China was weak, backward, and too mired in domestic turmoil to pose a formidable threat to world powers. Reality seemed to contradict Mr. Armstrong’s prediction—for a time. But events have unfolded, time has marched on, and the early phases of these predictions have come to pass to reveal that Mr. Armstrong was right!
Nations of the West are correct to be sober about China’s mushrooming power. Bible prophecy reveals that the burgeoning hostility between China and Europe will culminate in the greatest military conflagration in mankind’s strife-ridden history. But just beyond the perilous times on the horizon is some amazingly good news. Jesus Christ will return to put an end to the conflict between East and West, and between all other peoples of the Earth! He will usher in an era of divine rulership that will effect peace and prosperity for all of mankind.
To understand more about China’s rise, and its prophetic connection to this most hope-filled future, request a free copy of Russia and China in Prophecy.