The Briefing

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The Briefing

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

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This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

It's Tuesday, May 26, 2020. I'm Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

Part

The International Battle of Worldviews: The Big Story Behind Headlines on China and Hong Kong

As we think about the great clashes in worldviews on the global scene today, it's hard to come up with one that is more titanic than the clash of worldviews between the United States of America and its allies in the West and the People's Republic of China, the PRC, communist China under a one party communist party rule. We're looking at the fact that between these two rival worldviews, there is now decreasing space. That is to say that the two belligerent worldviews have now moved in such diametrical opposition that it is unlikely that there is much middle ground that is actually left. This is a fascinating development, and it is one that turns on its head the preconceptions that the world was moving into a new harmonic age.

It's very interesting that one of the core convictions of those who've been arguing that the world is moving into one giant community is the fact that economics alone would create that unity. The fact that we are in a shared global economy in which so much of our economy is tied to the economy of China, given rising aspirations economically in China as well as in the West, the idea was that there would be the development of some kind of inevitable peace because we wanted inevitable prosperity.

But one of the issues that we have to think about as Christians is the fact that our worldview and rival worldviews are actually more distinct, they're more different, often more contradictory than may at first appear. You might have common interests, but that does not mean that you are sharing a common worldview.

Now, before we even get to the modern age, let's just consider the fact that almost all of Europe was aware of China going back to the medieval period, even beyond that. And you also have the fact that for the entire existence of the United States of America, China has been a fact. But one of the facts is that for a lot of that history, China was basically so remote, so cut off from the rest of the world, so outside of our economic and political lives, that Americans didn't have to think about China very often.

And furthermore, what many Westerners thought of China had everything to do with the recognition that people there do think very differently. For one thing, for the greater part of the last 1000 years, China has been primarily turned inward rather than outward. Whereas, especially in the age of exploration from the 15th century, onward, Europe was turned very much outward. And so was the New World and the United States of America in particular.

There are also some huge moral factors we have to take into consideration. Much of what was known about China, for instance, in the 19th century was known in not only the age of exploration, but the age of British and European imperialism. And thus, you had the accusation made by people such as Edward Said, that Westerners tended to look at Easterners through the lens of what he called Orientalism. It's a very interesting argument. Edward Said's theory of Orientalism has serious faults, but nonetheless, it does point to the fact that both sides tended to look at the other as the other. You had Europe looking at China and China looking at Europe and the West, and each thought the other to be exotic.

And the distinctions in worldview are so incredibly basic right down to the notion of time. The Asian Eastern understanding of time has been traditionally cyclical. Time is unfolding in a great wheel of history. History comes around again and again in a great historical cycle. In the West, history is not understood to be a great cycle. Rather, it is understood to be a line, a line with past and present and future, not repeating itself. It's an unfolding of history. It's a progress of history. It is a forward arc of history. It is not a great cycle of history. But how you conceive of time has everything to do with how you understand the present as well as the past and the future. And as we're thinking about China right now, so much in the headlines in the present, we have to look to the past to understand where we are today. And in the West right now, we are largely stripped of illusions when it comes to China, if not over the last several years, then just over the last several days.

Over the course of the last several years under the leadership of Chinese communist leader, Xi Jinping, the Chinese Communist Party has been on a campaign of increasing repression when it comes to its own people and aggression when it comes to the rest of the world, especially the South China Sea, as well as other portions of the Asian Interest Area, as it defines it. But the United States and China, or you could say the West and China, are now increasingly locked in antagonism. And the events of recent days in China are by no means encouraging. Just consider two very important recent events.

For one thing, we have the current National People's Congress. That's the great meeting of Chinese government leaders, most importantly, the leaders of the Chinese Communist Party. As you look at them, it's a spectacle. It's meant to be a spectacle. All of these people in this giant room with all the red representing communism, especially communism in China and the Chinese Communist Party. All of these individuals, the vast majority of the men, dressed almost identically in their dark suits and all of them basically a part of the set to applaud the dictator, Xi Jinping, who has been, if anything, tightening his grip on power in China, even in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic.

But the biggest news and the news of greatest international concern of late is the word that came out in recent days that the Chinese Communist Party is violating its word, violating human rights agreements, violating international law and policies by repressing Hong Kong even further. Hong Kong, of course, has historically been a part of China, no argument there. During the time of British imperialism, it became one of the most important British harbors and areas of trade with the East. Britain secured, at one point, a 99 year lease from China on Hong Kong. That expired years ago. And China and the United Kingdom arranged an agreement whereby there would be a shift in Hong Kong away from ultimate British sovereignty to ultimate Chinese sovereignty. But with the agreement that for a 50 year period, Hong Kong would be recognized as a special administrative unit that is not ruled by the Chinese Communist Party, the way it ruled the rest of China.

But China's repression extends not only to Hong Kong, that's been the massive headline news in recent days, but also to Taiwan. The Island of Formosa, or Taiwan, became a separate nation recognized by the West as a result of the 1949 communist revolution in China. The nationalist forces had retreated to the Island of Formosa. And most of the West had recognized Taiwan as the legitimate government of China. All that changed in the 1970s. And given the realities of the international order and in particular, the United Nations, the recognition of China meant the de-recognition of Taiwan.

But at the very same time, Western nations in general, and the United States in particular had pledged to Taiwan an assurance that it would not allow the island to be simply absorbed by China. But China has been issuing maps that include not only Hong Kong, but Taiwan within Chinese territory. It's been bringing action, incredible financial pressure against any Western firms, such as an airline, that would even on a map or even on Twitter, as it turned out, refer to Taiwan as a nation, rather than to Taiwan as a part of China.

Let's just form an immediate contrast between the oppressive nature of the one party state in China and the experiment in ordered liberty that is the hallmark of the West. In the United States, we have a constitutional order of rule by the people for the people of the people. You also have a separation of powers in the government: the legislative, the executive, and the judicial branches. And you have two major parties. You have an openness for any party to emerge. The reality is in China, it's a one party rule.

You'll recall that I often go to that statement by Lord Acton that power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. That by the way, is a deeply Christian principle, as applied to politics. And we certainly see it when you look at the Communist Party's One Party Rule in China. There are other extremely interesting aspects to this. One is the fact that even though the one party that is in power in China is known as the Chinese Communist Party, the communism that is currently held by the Chinese Communist Party is not the communism that was held by the original communists, most importantly Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels. They would not recognize the communism of the Chinese Communist Party. That's because their theory of communism, which is one of the greatest intellectual and historical and moral failures of all human history, predicted that in the unfolding of the communist revolution, it would eventually lead to a people's utopia.

But of course, that hasn't happened. They understood that there would be revolution that will be followed by a one party rule that would be a mere historical transition to the perfect rule of the people. But of course, communism is based upon a faulty worldview, indeed, a materialistic atheistic worldview. It can't work. It doesn't work. The Soviet Union abandoned communism as true ideological communism in the 1950s. Joseph Stalin shifted from a promise of a worldwide communist revolution to what he called communism in one nation. That was a resignation of failure. But in China, you also have the fact that Chinese communism was really more about Maoism and party-ism than it ever was about communism. That's just a good worldview principle to understand. Labels don't always fit. That doesn't make the Chinese Communist Party any less evil or odious. It's just to say that ideologically, it doesn't even believe what it says it believes.

What we see in China is the fact that what a one party state believes in is the one party and its rule and its power and its privileges. And the fact that it must not have any rival. It can't have a rival, even a temporary rival in a transition period in Hong Kong. It can't have a rival in a democratic government on the Island of Formosa. It can't bear rivals.

Part

From “Bide Our Time” to the “Wolf Warriors” — China’s Shifting Foreign Policy

But there's something else that's very important for us to recognize and that is that China really doesn't care what the rest of the world thinks. Now that's important to understand, because if you take a nation such as, let's say, Germany or France, or for that matter, even many nations in South America, or in Africa, central America, take Canada or the United States, every one of those governments and nations cares about what the world thinks.

But when you're looking at China, what's becoming very clear is that China really doesn't care what the world thinks. And under the current autocratic leader, Xi Jinping, it is acting openly now as if it doesn't care what the rest of the world thinks. China's posture is becoming more and more aggressive as Chun Han Wong and Chao Deng reported for the Wall Street Journal in recent days, China is now unleashing a diplomatic corps who named themselves “Wolf Warriors.” Now, does that mean? Well, it means that China's foreign policy is shifting right before our eyes from one that at least appeared to be more in keeping with the standard diplomatic model, to now a very assertive and aggressive form of diplomacy. As the Wall Street Journal makes clear, that term “Wolf Warrior” actually comes from a nationalistic Chinese film franchise, "about a Rambo-like soldier turned security contractor who battles American led mercenary groups."

Every time China believes that its national goals, its national interests, or its national prestige have even been dinged anywhere around the world, its diplomats are now growing extremely assertive, aggressive, threatening to sue, threatening to bring economic punishment, threatening all kinds of actions, even as China, and this is so important, has been building up its military, including its naval forces and its nuclear arsenal far beyond anything Americans or other Western governments believed that it was capable of doing. China is now a major player. It knows it's a major player. It intends now to make major plays.

If you were to go back a couple of generations, you would look at Richard Nixon, the president of the United States, along with his secretary of state Henry Kissinger, going to China in what was understood as a great opening. It did change world affairs for at least a generation. President Nixon and Kissinger understood that the Soviet Union and China were really not communist allies, they had very different interests. And in an effort to try to box in the Soviet Union, the United States established diplomatic relations with China. But that was under the rule of the revolutionary dictator of China, Mao Tse Tung.

All that began to change when you had a leader such as Deng Xiaoping emerge in the next generation. Deng Xiaoping is the one who helped to shift China towards more of a communist party market economy, rather than any form of anything that would claim to be classical communism. But when you're looking at the posture and the philosophy behind China, you'll notice the distinction between Xi Jinping's very aggressive stance now, and what Deng Xiaoping had said a generation ago. His maxim was this, "Hide our strength, bide our time." Very interesting. Very much in keeping with the basic Confucian philosophy that had shaped China for centuries.

That maximum of Deng Xiaoping, "Hide our strength bide our time," has now been replaced by, "Show our strength demand our way now." You can certainly predict very easily that China and relations with China, America's posture towards China is going to be a major factor in the 2020 race for the American presidency.

Before leaving China, I also want to point to the fact that the Wall Street Journal's Rachel Pannett wrote an article days ago indicating that China has even begun to bring political power against students in Western universities. In particular in this case, a 20-year-old philosophy student at the University of Queensland in Australia. China is basically saying that Australia is going to lose a great deal of business with China—you're talking about the potential of billions and billions of dollars—if it does not silence criticism of China coming even from a single college student there in Queensland.

We also now know that China has had an aggressive policy of infiltrating Western academia. That's not a conspiracy theory. It is extremely well-documented. We're talking here about the Wall Street Journal that points to the fact that the Chinese Communist Party is behind the Confucius institutes that are now sprouted up on many major American and other Western university campuses. They are not neutral. And furthermore, many of those Western universities have grown increasingly dependent upon tuition coming from Chinese students. There's a lot of threat behind the velvet glove of the Confucius Institute.

Part

The Arc of Human History Does Not Bend Toward Inevitable Harmony: Danger and Diplomacy as Washington Views the World

But next, we'll shift from China to a headline that came out over the weekend. The headline in the New York Times and the article by David E. Sanger is this: "Trump to Pull Out of Open Skies Treaty in Latest Arms Accord Retreat." Now it's very interesting that the headline here uses the word “retreat” as if it's wrong, it's a retreat from progress for the President of the United States either to pull the United States out of this treaty with Russia or to threaten to do so. It's a far more complicated story, but it's amazingly tied to what we just talked about.

You have an autocratic government in China that claims to be communist and you have an autocratic government in Russia that doesn't any longer claim to be communist. But what they share in common is autocracy, the worship of power and the corruption and repression necessary to sustain that power. What you also have is a contest for global influence and that includes military force. For much of the late 20th century, the great rival military forces were the Soviet Union and the United States. The United States with its allies, NATO, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. And the Soviet Union with what was known as the Warsaw Bloc. Those were the two major polarities, the two major power blocks, the two massive arsenals and sets of armies that faced off against each other in what was known as the Cold War. And of course the Cold War sometimes got hot, especially in what was then called the developing world.

But when you're looking at the world today, you still have the history of that bipolar reality, the former Soviet Union, now Russia still armed with a massive nuclear arsenal. And yet, you have a new reality. You're really looking at a tri-polar world now when it comes to the battle for international influence, economic power, and especially right now when it comes down to military realities, you're looking at Russia, you're looking at the United States and the West, and then you are looking at China.

And as I said earlier, China is increasingly aggressive and it is much better armed. China at least claims at this point even to have hypersonic nuclear weapons that can threaten American Naval supremacy, including aircraft carriers. Whether that is true in specific detail or not, it is certainly true that both Russia and China have been building up their nuclear forces. And it is also true that many of the agreements, the most important agreements on the limitations of nuclear arms were between the United States and the former Soviet Union or between the United States and its allies and Russia, and China is not a part of the equation.

So what we're looking at, as I think about this tri-polar world, is that President Trump, by the way, following the kind of concerns that every recent American presidential administration has had, understands that we are bound by a treaty with Russia. Russia, isn't honoring these treaties, whether it's in intermediate nuclear weapons or when it comes to the Open Skies Agreement. And China isn't even a part of the agreement. It's not bound by any of the restrictions. So the United States is in a position of witnessing its treaty partner, Russia, violating the treaty or the treaties and China not even bound by the treaty. This is for the United States and for our allies and unacceptable position.

But then that leads to something else. So many in the West, virtually every single intelligence agency in the West agrees that Russia is not keeping these particular treaties. And of course, Russia has been aggressive itself. Even in recent years, simply taking Crimea from Ukraine as an act of political aggression that it got away with. The maps of the world now show Crimea as part of Russia, not a part of Ukraine.

The Open Skies Agreement goes back to the period of apparent harmony right after the fall of the Soviet Union. And the treaty made clear that American and Russian forces, when it comes to air surveillance can go over each other's territory. That's the open skies, so that there are no nuclear secrets when it comes to the number of nuclear weapons or what might be the marshaling of armies.

In any event, Russia has been decreasingly faithful to its end of the bargain. And President Trump simply said, "Well, then the bargain's off. The treaty will no longer be in effect." But it's really interesting to see how many in other Western nations, and also at least some in the United States will say, "We should keep the treaty, even if Russia is not. And even if China isn't in the treaty." And that's because you have so many in the long history of American diplomacy who believe in diplomacy so much that they will ignore the obvious when it comes to the data. And that gets back to a major worldview issue that affects so many in the West, especially in Western elites. It is the idea that after the enlightenment, the world was inevitably moving into this new harmonious age, an age of reason, an age of diplomacy, an age of international law, an age of international alliances.

And to some degree, this has happened here and there. It has happened then and now. It hasn't happened consistently. You do not see history unfolding as an arc of inevitable progress, much less an arc of inevitable harmony. This is where the Christian worldview reminds us, we live in a fallen world and sin affects every part of it. And that of course even affects our ability to understand sometimes our own intentions or even to gauge our own interests. The reality is, we live in a dangerous world, a world in which there is increasing aggression. We did not enter the 21st century as an age of inevitable progress. Just remember one date. If you can only remember one date, think of the beginning of the 21st century and think of the date September 11, 2001.

Americans in general, and American Christians in particular, often give far too little attention to the world around us and trying to understand it. Many Americans simply don't think they have time for foreign policy or defense matters. They're not really looking at the globe and trying to understand why people think differently than we do and why they often act differently than we do. Why they have a different system of government, a different conception of time, and for that matter, a different moral code.

But for Christians at the very least, the light bulb goes on again and again that there are basic worldview issues at stake here. And that those issues really matter. What you believe at the most basic level, that level of worldview is going to come out in your economy, in your government, in your consumer life, in the structure of your family. It's going to come out in your foreign policy. It's going to come out one way or another.

And another one of the realities of a fallen world is that foreign policy often doesn't stay foreign. That is to say, it often becomes matters of domestic policy. As I said, you can count on the fact that China, and perhaps also Russia, the larger issues of America's engagement with the world and our posture towards the world is going to come down to rival worldviews that will take the shape of rival political arguments in the 2020 presidential race. Watch for them, I assure you they're going to be there.

Thanks for listening to The Briefing.

And speaking of being there, I want to invite you virtually to be there for the Boyce College virtual preview day on Friday, June the 5th. If you're a prospective college student, if you're a parent or anyone interested in learning more about the world-class Christian worldview education available at Boyce College, this virtual preview day is for you. The event will begin with an Ask Anything live, where I'll answer questions ranging from theology, worldview, ministry, and more, you name it. I'll look forward to having you join us and submit a question for me to answer. There will also be opportunities to participate in live Q&As with our world-class faculty as well.

Again, the event will be on Friday, June 5th, beginning at 1:00 PM. We'll introduce you to Boyce College. It will be the next best thing to being here. To join us, sign up at boycecollege.com/preview. That's boycecollege.com/preview.

For more information, go to my website at AlbertMohler.com. You can find me on Twitter by going to twitter.com/albertmohler. For information on The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, go to sbts.edu. For information on Boyce College, just go to boycecollege.com.

I'll meet you again tomorrow for The Briefing.

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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