As Asian nations survey the landscape of their continent, two accelerating trends stand out that are rapidly reshaping the region.
First, they see the United States—the region’s powerhouse since the end of World War ii—distracted by vexing challenges in the Middle East and economic trouble at home. Succumbing to its fiscal diseases, the U.S. is reducing its defense budget and planning to hack as much as a trillion dollars more over the coming decade. Asia is simply no longer the priority it once was.
Second, and patently obvious to the nations witnessing it in their own neighborhood, they see China’s power mushrooming—and fast.
The ramifications of this shift are already sending waves through the Pacific. It is reshaping the world order, and its significance cannot be overstated.
China is upgrading its military speedily. Just in the last year, the 2.3 million-man People’s Liberation Army (pla) completed the prototype of its first stealth aircraft, unveiled new strategic missiles, and developed the world’s first operational anti-ship ballistic missile for targeting ships at sea.
In August, China’s first aircraft carrier, the Varyag, left its shipyard to begin its first sea trial. Beijing says the refurbished Russian warship will be used only for “scientific research, experiment and training,” but you can be sure it sends a powerful message to China’s friends and foes alike. Jeremy Page of the Wall Street Journal called the launch “the most potent symbol yet” of China’s rise, and said it marks “a milestone in relations between an ascendant China, bent on reclaiming its historical role as a global power, and a debt-ridden U.S. that wants to retain the military supremacy it has wielded in Asia since 1945” (August 11).
The Varyag is not the only aircraft carrier in the works for Beijing. One Chinese official said the pla is developing two additional warships of its own design; earlier reports say Beijing has as many as six aircraft carriers in development.
This militarization has the whole region on edge. Ian Storey of Singapore’s Institute of Southeast Asian Studies said in Time magazine that the launch of the Varyag added to tensions that have notably risen in recent months and are now probably higher than they’ve been since the end of the Cold War (August 10). Why so tense?
Since 2000, China’s published defense budget has increased by 15 percent each year, and its defiance rises in proportion to its military might. Following 10 years of charm offensive toward other Asian powers, Beijing now behaves like the neighborhood bully in its claims of ownership over almost all of the South China Sea. China is not content with the status quo in Asia and is displaying its ambitions of regional supremacy with increasing boldness.
Exacerbating the tensions is the nation’s one-child policy, which has had an apparently unintended side effect: a catastrophic sex ratio. The desire of most couples to have a male heir has prompted pandemic abortion rates of females, creating a China with more than 32 million excess males under the age of 20 who have no chance of finding a Chinese bride. In his book After America, author Mark Steyn says the one-child policy “is a recipe either for wrenching social convulsions at home—or for war abroad. … China has to maximize its power before demographic decay sets in. In other words, it has strong incentives to be bold and to push, hard and fast” (emphasis added throughout).
China certainly has put itself in a position to act on those incentives. Because of its authoritarian government and enormous population, it has a potential as a military superpower unmatched by any other nation.
As Russian analyst Lev Navrozov wrote, “As a totalitarian society, prc [People’s Republic of China] is a military camp, in which everyone is a soldier. It is easier in such a society to conceal the building of new weapons or pursuing a secret military agenda” (World Tribune, August 11).
Navrozov continued: “The United States should keep in mind that the Communist China is a totalitarian society, the number of its population is 1.4 billion, and the possibilities to conceal secret military projects are infinite. The pla is the name of China’s ‘People’s Liberation Army.’ It means that Communist China is out to ‘liberate’ the entire world. … China has enough people to carry out this task of global ‘liberation.’ … The free people of the world, their governments, and those who want to be free must learn how to recognize the warning signs of the danger coming from the evil, totalitarian societies by doing their utmost effort to defend themselves.”
As Asian nations observe these warning signs and experience the acceleration of these two intertwined trends, they are reacting in two ways: defensively, or realistically.
Japan is responding by bolstering its own defense forces and cautioning the world about Beijing. In its annual defense report released in August, Tokyo called China’s future direction a “source of concern” and voiced anxiety over what it called the “opaqueness” of China’s military spending. The defense budget China publicly announces “is widely seen as only part of what Beijing actually spends for military purposes,” the report cautioned. In response to China’s ramped-up aggression and power, Japan is working to increase its coastal defenses, expand its radar ability, and boost the size and power of its submarine fleet.
However, though Japan is sounding the strongest alarm over China’s rise, it is hardly in a position to curb the trend. It is struggling to recover from economic anemia, political malaise and the damage it sustained in the massive earthquake and tsunami it suffered on March 11. And even with Japan’s forecasted military expansions, its armed forces are only around one tenth the size of China’s. Japan is concerned, but concern will not neutralize China.
Russia and Thailand, by contrast, are responding with a markedly different approach. As China flexes its military muscle and America’s prestige fades, Moscow and Bangkok are preparing to abandon the sinking U.S. ship to align themselves with Beijing.
On August 6, Russian President Dmitri Medvedev deserted his previous pro-U.S. political disposition and said the option of improving U.S.-Russian ties is now out of the question. Medvedev also bizarrely accused the U.S. of instigating the 2008 Georgia war, in which the Russian Army invaded the Republic of Georgia; he accused Washington of plotting with Georgia to seize the Russia-friendly breakaway states of South Ossetia and Abkhazia.
Since 2008, the Obama administration has made a string of concessions to Russia—approving the New start treaty on nuclear disarmament, offering full support of Russia’s wto ambitions, and agreeing to cooperate on a ballistic missile shield. Why, then, would the Kremlin’s rhetoric toward the U.S. take such a hostile turn?
The answer is China. Russia is pivoting away from Washington in order to strengthen ties with Beijing.
As New York University Professor Emeritus Albert Weeks wrote, “[T]he Kremlin seems to be reasoning that hitching its wagon to the red flag flying over Beijing is the safest way to go, especially given China’s mounting economic power and its potential military supremacy looming in the not-too-distant future …. Maybe an emerging Chinese superpower on Russia’s borders is a better bet for the Kremlin than the United States. Moscow and Beijing now speak the same language on ‘U.S. global hegemony’ and America’s ‘parasitical’ policy with respect to global finance. What Moscow used to call its mere ‘partnership’ with China may now be escalating into an all-out alliance” (Herald Tribune, August 10).
A crucial facet of this developing alliance is military cooperation. When a top-ranking Chinese army official visited Russia in August, China’s state-sponsored People’s Daily reported, “As their bilateral relations have developed … the two countries have made great efforts to promote the healthy and rapid development of bilateral military ties in a comprehensive way” (August 15). During the visit, Russia and China agreed for the first time to conduct General Staff-level military exchanges, a milestone in cooperation in military operations. The Daily said such unity “could rarely be seen in the military cooperation between any other large countries.”
Thailand has taken a similar course of action. In a confidential cable to Washington, America’s former ambassador to Thailand wrote, “Indications that the U.S.’s historically close relationship with Thailand and the region is being challenged by the rise of China have become increasingly evident in recent years in a variety of arenas, not just economically but diplomatically, culturally, politically, and even in some security areas. A U.S.-educated Thai Army colonel at the National Defense College shocked a group of U.S. one-star officers visiting … by stating bluntly: ‘The Thai perceive regional power dynamics as follows: China is rising; the U.S. is distracted/declining; and Thailand will adjust its policies accordingly.’”
Evidence of Beijing’s success in drawing Thailand away from Washington began in 2006 when China convinced the Thai military to hold annual joint military exercises with Chinese troops. Last year, the two sides held a 15-day joint antiterrorism drill. One Thai official expressed alarm over China’s surging influence in Thailand, saying, “China will own us! Thailand will be like a vassal of China.” But Thailand’s swing toward Beijing in recent years indicates that the majority of Thai policymakers have already accepted that China will dominate Thailand, and they are bracing the nation for the inevitable.
Two Camps Will Become One
As China rises and the U.S. slides, each Asian nation is working itself into one of two categories.
In the first camp are countries following Japan’s example. They see China’s shadow growing longer and darker and are reacting by building up their own defense forces. Among the nations in this category are Vietnam, the Philippines, Taiwan, South Korea and Indonesia.
In the second are the countries taking the realist path of Russia and Thailand. They are preparing to be allied with or dominated by China. Among the countries in or edging toward this camp are East Timor, North Korea, Myanmar, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Mongolia, Pakistan, Uzbekistan and Sri Lanka.
But Bible prophecy indicates that, regardless of which category a given nation currently falls into, almost all will eventually be in the second camp—joined together as a gargantuan power bloc, with China and Russia at the helm.
An end-time prophecy in Daniel 11:40-43 refers to a European empire rising up to smash a Middle Eastern power in a shock blitzkrieg strike. The staggering military success of this European bloc will not go unchecked! The prophecy continues in verse 44, saying “tidings out of the east and out of the north shall trouble him ….” After devastating the Middle Eastern power, the European empire will be troubled by stirrings to its east and north—that is, in Asia!
Putting that prophecy together with many others shows that Asia is going to rise up in a massive alliance dominated by China and Russia. The Trumpet has foretold this for over two decades, and Herbert Armstrong and the Plain Truth magazine did so for more than five decades before that! China’s rise and the geopolitical reshaping we are witnessing today points to the dramatic and sure fulfillment of this age-old prophecy—a prophecy that actually culminates in the most momentous event in the universe’s history: the return of Jesus Christ, and the commencement of an age of peace for all the people of Asia, and of Europe, and for the whole of mankind!