The recent visit from China’s President, Hu Jintao, has caused many, including Christians, to worry. China now claims the world’s second most robust economy, having just surpassed Japan. Only a few years ago China was reclusive, and generally wary of international diplomacy. Today, the country is burgeoning. It has become a significant lender. It brokers agreements along the Pacific Rim. It has a large military. And while Hu did not seize the occasion of his visit to lecture the U.S. nor to plead for greater power for the Yuan, there is no question that China desires to make its presence known around the world.
How are we to relate to this giant, once asleep, and now wide-awake, poised to shake the world (Napoleon)? Surely caution and patience are enjoined. Not a time to panic (is it ever? – God is always in charge). Yet it is a time to be properly wary, wise as serpents. Even though to Western eyes China appears to be moving steadily toward capitalism, the state is very much in control. Ask the Google company. Or ask a number of Westminster students, who have known the ever-present watchful eye of government over their church fellowships.
We are in a marvelous time of opportunity. American foreign policy should surely engage in several strategies at once: respect for a sovereign state, cultural exchange, careful stewardship of money and balanced trade. But human rights must not be lost in the bargain. Still, in China, religion is under surveillance, babies are aborted or sent to questionable orphanages, and a call was issued to boycott the Nobel Prize ceremony honoring Liu Xiabo. We need to keep the now unbound feet to the fire.
The opportunity extends at the deepest level as well. On our several visits to China, Barbara and I have observed the frenetic push toward prosperity, as exampled by World Expo 2010 in Shanghai last fall. But we have also witnessed the considerable emptiness and spiritual hunger of many people. We’ve seen it in the arts, and in private conversations. The time is at hand for thoughtful, worldview-based evangelism. One of our PhD students is doing her doctoral dissertation on the awareness of God in early Chinese philosophy. Her goal is not purely academic. It is to find a point of contact to reach millions of her kinsmen according to the flesh with the Gospel of Christ. This, then, is a truly global diplomacy!