Kings of the East: American Evangelicals and U.S. China Policy

By Marsh, Christopher | The National Interest, Fall 2005 | Go to article overview

Kings of the East: American Evangelicals and U.S. China Policy


Marsh, Christopher, The National Interest


THE RECENT passage of China's anti-secession law has raised fears in Washington and Taipei that Beijing may use the legislation to declare war on Taiwan. For some fundamentalist Christians, this is just a further sign of the End Times. According to a Time/CNN poll, 59 percent of Americans believe that the prophecies in the Book of Revelation will come true, a number that is on the rise following 9/11. Among those that seek to interpret the prophecies, China is seen as a major player in the events that will usher in the apocalypse. As interpreted by Irvin Baxter--pastor, novelist and editor of Endtime magazine, which has a readership exceeding 150,000--the Book of Revelation foretells a coming nuclear war between the United States and China. As recounted in his The China War and the Third Temple (2001), China will initiate a nuclear attack against Los Angeles in response to America's interference in China's "rightful claims to the Island of Taiwan." While a work of fiction, this novel reveals how Baxter "envisions world events to play out based on his understanding of endtime Bible prophecy" and "is his view of how events will play out in the near future." And it is clearly understood that way by his many readers who take the Book of Revelation as a prophecy of the end of the world.

When discussing the many factors that comprise the U.S. decision calculus in its policy toward China, one area that must not be overlooked is the role of religion. Whether it be the role of religious interest groups, President Bush's own Christian faith or the promotion of religious freedom as a U.S. foreign policy objective--and these are clearly not unrelated issues--the role of religion in U.S. foreign policy toward China complicates relations, especially over Taiwan.

Ideals and Interests

THE UNITED States cannot afford a major conflict with China while still working to establish democracy in Afghanistan and Iraq, nor as long as it must cope with other pressing issues on the horizon, such as a nuclear-armed Iran or North Korea. The best policy for the moment is therefore to continue what David Lampton called the "stealth normalization" of U.S.-Chinese relations. (1) While stealth normalization is very much a realist approach to managing the U.S.-Chinese relationship, it faces a real challenge in the idealistic commitment of the United States to promoting democracy, human rights and religious freedom around the world. Democracy promotion is viewed with great suspicion in China and is seen as a cover for a policy of regime change. Chinese leaders see it as part of an overall American strategy that they refer to as "peaceful evolution" (heping yanbian), where the United States seeks to promote Western-style political and economic systems across the globe, based upon what are labeled "Western" conceptions of individualism and personal freedom. The constant monitoring of religious freedom in China and the pressure exerted to respect religious liberty thus appear to leaders in Beijing not simply as unwelcome meddling in their domestic affairs but as part of a larger plot to eventually overthrow their system of governance.

China and the Evangelicals

WHILE premillennialist Christians such as Baxter and his readership are not President's Bush's largest support base, he does rely quite heavily on the Christian Right in general, many of whom share similar views of China's "godless communists." Included here are public figures such as Gary Bauer of the Family Research Council, a one-time and perhaps future presidential candidate, who publicly stated that "China should be a disfavored nation in every aspect of American foreign policy." Bush and other U.S. policymakers, including House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-TX), have brought religion to the forefront of U.S.-Chinese relations, partly due to the influence of these and other American religious groups. Indeed, in the weeks leading up to Bush's February 2002 visit to China, which marked the thirtieth anniversary of Nixon's historic visit, many groups, including the Committee for Investigation on Persecution of Religion in China, lobbied to have religious freedom issues pushed high on Bush's agenda. …

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