“The sixth angel poured his bowl on the great Euphrates River. Its water was dried up to prepare the way for the kings from the east.” ReV 16:12 ISV
In November, President Obama travelled to Australia for a meeting with Prime Minister Julia Gillard. During his visit, Obama committed to increasing the number of U.S. Marines rotating through Australian bases around the northern coastal city of Darwin, which serves as a critical gateway to Southeast Asia through Indonesia and East Timor.
During the meeting, President Obama asserted that the Asia-Pacific Theater remains of vital strategic interest to the United States, regardless of domestic budget restrictions.
The United States is a Pacific power, and we are here to stay … As we end today’s wars [in Iraq and Afghanistan], I have directed my national security team to make our presence and missions in the Asia-Pacific a top priority... As the world’s fastest-growing region—and home to more than half of the global economy—Asia is critical to achieving my highest priority: creating jobs and opportunity for the American people...
The Asia-Pacific region is the world’s most economically vibrant, a point highlighted by Europe’s and the United States’ economic hardship. It may also prove to be the source of the greatest threats to global security over the coming decades. In both respects, a resurgent China is at the heart of things.
The United States’ renewed interest in the area is seen by many as a signal to China that the U.S. is not going to cede this region of the world to Beijing. While the troop levels are small, they serve as both a tripwire and a reminder to the world that the United States is still a force to be reckoned with and a counterweight to Chinese expansion plans. The U.S. reentry into the region is setting off alarm bells in Beijing.
Much of China’s foreign military policy is driven by fear of the United States. While some pundits are saying that American power is waning, it is still a force to be reckoned with. The United States exercises almost complete control over the worlds’ seas. Warships and fleets move around the world only with the forbearance of the United States.
The Chinese wish to change the rules of this game. To this end, China is beginning to build up its blue water (ocean-going) navy. China has just recently put a refurbished Ukrainian Aircraft Carrier, the Varyag, out for sea trials in the Yellow Sea. For the last thirty years, China has steadily improved its naval capability. China is shifting its focus from being a land-based power, to an air and naval one.
This is a logical next step for The Middle Kingdom. China arguably has the world’s second-largest economy. It is primarily an export economy that depends on the sea lanes for its survival. (As one pundit put it, “Every seventh container ship from China goes to the People’s Republic of Wal-Mart.”) Its growing emphasis on international trade has shifted China’s focus to its coastline. China’s maritime defenses are gaining importance as the country is growing more concerned over outside threats, rather than inside ones.
China’s primary concern is one of encirclement by the United States. It is a fear that goes back to the Chinese Revolution of 1949. Since the United States gave its support to Chiang Kai-Shek in that war, China sees the United States as a threat to its sovereignty.
A good example of this is the Chinese intervention in the Korean War.
Korea was “temporarily” divided by the Soviet Union and the United States at the end of the Second World War (much as Europe was divided by the Allied Powers). It was agreed that free elections would be held in 1948 to reunify the country. When it looked as if the Communist Party would lose the election, Korean Communists in the north, led by Kim Il Sung, invaded the South and marched on Seoul.
After an initial setback, the Koreans in the South, aided by the United Nations, forced the Northern troops back over the UN partition line at the 38th Parallel and continued to push the North Koreans up to the Yalu River near Manchuria. Many historians write that the push to the Yalu was the reason for the direct Chinese Intervention in the war in 1950, but there was another factor that is not often discussed.
In 1950, when the United States recognized the Nationalist Chinese Government on Taiwan as the sole legitimate government for all of China, President Harry Truman sent the U.S. Seventh Fleet into the Taiwan Strait to prevent any conflict between the Taiwanese and Mainland Chinese. While Truman saw this as a peacekeeping move between the two factions, the Communist Chinese saw it as a direct threat.
China saw the move as the United States reentering the Chinese Civil War. Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai also saw it as a move by the United States to project its influence in the region, literally at China’s doorstep. (The same way the U.S. support of South Vietnam would be viewed.)
Zhou believed that if the U.S. move into the Taiwan Strait was not answered quickly and forcefully, the United States would keep extending its sphere of influence into other areas around China. While the move to the Yalu did help precipitate China’s entry into the war, planning for the Chinese invasion of the North began within a week of the U.S. Navy’s move into the Strait, while the U.N. was still mired in the Battle of Pusan Perimeter.1
Twenty years later, the Vietnamese learned what would happen if the Chinese thought they were being encircled. Vietnam and China were allies during the Vietnam War and continued to be allies after the United States withdrew from the country. It wasn’t until 1979 that relations between the two countries began to crumble. The Vietnamese invasions into Laos and Cambodia in 1979 were viewed by the Chinese as another encirclement attempt and again they decided they had to respond. The result was a brief but bloody border war fought in 1979 between China and Vietnam.
The Chinese invaded Vietnam and decimated the Northern Provinces. While the Vietnamese claimed victory in the war by keeping their troops in Cambodia another ten years, China achieved its strategic objective of reducing the offensive capability of Vietnam along the Sino-Vietnam border by implementing a scorched earth policy. China also demonstrated to the world that the Soviet Union was unable to protect their Vietnamese ally. China’s fear of encirclement, once again, meant a very bloody encounter.
This is the situation the United States is facing now. The U.S. has made it very clear that it will not cede South Asia to China and China does not acknowledge that the United States has any right to “interfere” in their sphere of influence. China does not see itself as a nation that is emerging onto the world stage. It sees itself as being on the world stage for eighteen hundred of the last two thousand years. It does not see itself as needing U.S. permission to do anything. This is especially true since China has become the United States’ lender of last resort.
At the present time, China does not seem to be interested in pure power projection or expansion to promote an ideology. It is on a hunt for secure energy supplies. It is looking for these resources in areas that have been neglected in U.S. strategy. China’s search for energy security has led it to invest in ports and pipelines in Pakistan, Sri Lanka, and Myanmar (also known as Burma). The more China and India rise, the more welcome U.S. power will be in the region as a counterbalance to both.
While the United States and China are locked in a competition for dominance in the Yellow and South China Seas, the U.S. is also working to forge closer ties with other countries in the region. The administration is seeking to bolster U.S. military ties with Indonesia and the Philippines, which both adjoin the South China Sea. While Obama was in Australia, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was in the Philippines pledging closer cooperation between the two countries. These moves indicate that the United States wants to expand its influence in Southern Asia at the expense of the northwest Pacific and the areas around Japan. The South China Sea is strategically important in the area since it is this body of water that links U.S. strategic interests in the Pacific to its interests in the Indian Ocean and to those of the rising powers of South Asia. According to Deputy Secretary of State Burns, a key objective of the administration’s strategy is to unite India with Japan, Australia and other members of the emerging anti-Chinese bloc.
Chinese officials following these developments must see them as a calculated U.S. effort to encircle China with hostile alliances. How, exactly, Beijing will respond to this onslaught remains to be seen, but China is not a country that is intimidated by foreign nations. China has been resisting foreign aggression for centuries.
A part of the region that is of particular interest to the United States includes the Straits of Malacca, a “choke point” for oil supplies and other goods heading to the Far East. This body of water is situated between the coastline of Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore to the East and the Indonesian island of Sumatra to the West.
It extends 6oo miles (900 km) from its widest point (about 350 km between Northern Sumatra and Thailand) to its narrowest (less than 3 km wide between southern Sumatra and Singapore). At its shallowest, it has a reported depth of just 80 feet (25 meters). According to the Energy Information Administration, at least 50,000 ships sail through this strait every year.2 These ships transport about 30 percent of the world’s trade goods and half the world`s oil shipments pass through the Strait.3
The Strait also pass through Indonesia, which concerns many in the U.S. State Department. Indonesia has the highest population of Muslims in the world. Over 200 Million people (13% of the world’s Muslim population) live in the country.4 If this nation should fall to radical Islam, China, Japan, and the other countries of Eastern and Southeast Asia would be vulnerable to an embargo of vital supplies through the Strait. This is becoming a concern to the countries of East Asia as threats of piracy and terrorist acts in the Strait are being reported with increasing frequency.
There is a climate of uncertainty in the relationship between Islam and Christianity, as well as in relations between
Islam and the other recognized religions in Indonesia. Ongoing unrest between the Muslim and Christian communities in the Moluccan Islands, as well as scattered acts of violence in other areas of Indonesia, does not bode well for an optimistic future for the region.
“The way of the kings of the east” is a definite prophecy of a vast invasion by a coalition of eastern empires. There is no doubt that China, India, Japan, Korea, Indonesia, Pakistan, and others view themselves as important players on the international stage. Some kind of coalition will rebel and come against the empire of the Beast.5 It is for this reason that those of us who watch current events through the lens of Biblical prophecy should be watching the events in Southern Asia unfold.
Steve Elwart can be contacted at Steve.Elwart@studycenter.com