While Americans were grieving yet another school shooting, stocks fell significantly on fears of a trade war with China. The market plunged Monday morning on news that the US would escalate tariffs against Chinese imports. Then it rebounded on hopes that trade talks would eventually succeed amid news that a Chinese delegation is coming to Washington this week. Then it fell again yesterday.
My purpose today is not to masquerade as an economist in explaining the function and results of tariffs or the larger financial issues at stake. Rather, it is to discuss with you an underlying factor in the US–China relationship that is crucial for our souls and God’s global kingdom.
According to Pillsbury, China’s President Xi Jinping dreams of “a resurgent China that would reclaim its rightful place atop the global hierarchy. This has been a Communist Party ambition since Mao took power in 1949, the date commonly understood by China’s leaders as the beginning of the Hundred-Year Marathon.”
China’s goal is “to compete with and surpass the United States as the world’s leading economic power.” If current trends persist, “by 2050, China’s economy will be much larger than America’s—perhaps three times larger, according to some projections.”
Why does this matter?
In this new world, “China will be able to outspend America militarily. It will be able to exert over its neighbors and allies the robust influence that America has enjoyed for decades. And, at least to some degree, China will be able to shape the world in its image.”
Such a power shift “will be a huge step back from open markets and free trade, and it will handicap the WTO and similar efforts to foster multilateral trading.” In short, according to Pillsbury, the Chinese dream “is for China to be the world’s only superpower—unrivaled economically, militarily, and culturally.”
What comes of the current trade contest between the US and China remains to be seen. But there is no question that the Chinese are engaged in a marathon, not a sprint.
Buddhism and Communism vs. the Declaration of Independence
Here’s the part of the story that I’ve not seen in news coverage: the United States and the People’s Republic of China stand on radically different cultural foundations.
China’s worldview is grounded in Buddhist teachings that emphasize the impermanence of all being (the doctrine of anicca) and the belief that humans have no permanent “soul” (the doctrine of anatta). There is no concept of a personal God or an individual’s eternal existence in heaven or hell. The focus is on achieving nirvana (literally “blowing out”), a state of bliss in which human ego, desire, and suffering are extinguished.
Couple this view of the individual with Communism’s insistence that the person must serve the State to advance the welfare of all, and we have a formula for long-term national advancement with less concern for present-day citizens. The Chinese government can engage in a hundred-year quest for global dominance even if its people fail to benefit today. They have no power to vote their leaders out of office, ensuring the one-party government’s continued authority.
By contrast, the American experiment is based on the Judeo-Christian commitment to the sanctity of every human life. Thomas Jefferson claimed that “all men are created equal” and “endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights” including “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” His Declaration expressed what all Americans considered “self-evident” truth because their culture was grounded in the biblical worldview.
Our “democracy” (“the power of the people”) flows naturally from this belief in the intrinsic value of each person and is the antithesis of “communism” (“pertaining to what is common”).
One Chinese church was recently closed when its pastor—a graduate of Fuller Theological Seminary in California—refused to mount face-recognition cameras on his pulpit turned on the congregation. Minors are banned from entering any church.
The trade wars making headlines are important to our present-day economic health. China’s marathon for global dominance is obviously relevant to our collective future.
But the spiritual warfare going on in China is eternally significant.
“Great is your reward in heaven”
I invite you to stop now and ask God to protect the hundreds of millions of Christians in China. Ask our Father to redeem their suffering and strengthen their witness. And decide to join them in serving Jesus, whatever the cost.
God’s word warns us: “All who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Timothy 3:12). But Jesus taught his persecuted followers to “rejoice and be glad, for great is your reward in heaven” (Matthew 5:12).
If you must choose between reward today and reward in eternity, what decision will you make?