China plus ASEAN plus FTA equals East Asian Unification? Not Quite Part II

As discussed in Part I of this series, the ASEAN-China Free Trade Agreement (ACFTA) will be a win-win for the signatories. The agreement will produce greater economies of scales, as it expands trade between members, which will result in an aggregate increase in competitive export products from China and ASEAN. However, it will not foreshadow European-style regional integration, at least not in the near future. The centrifugal force generated by the agreement will not only draw ASEAN closer to China, the regions manufacturing hub, but it will push those states outside the bloc to liberalize their own trade in order to stay competitive. While the United States is generally supportive of ASEAN, it is not in the strategic interest of the U.S. for it to be outside of an Asian economic bloc, especially one that will aid in cementing a strong Chinese leadership position in Southeast Asia. Implementation of this agreement has increased concerns among some analysts that the economic and perhaps, the political center of gravity of the region are shifting away from the United States and toward China.

Over the last 10 years, Southeast Asia has received approximately US$90 billion in U.S. foreign direct investment (FDI); it is the third largest market for U.S. exports; and U.S.-ASEAN trade is over US$140 billion (Pitsuwan 2008). Southeast Asia is flush with agricultural and natural resources, and is home to more than half of the world’s annual merchant shipping traffic. Intraregional trade between ASEAN nations still hovers at 25% and in East Asia, it now verges on 55% (Pitsuwan 2008). Over 80% of Japanese and Chinese oil imports travel through these sea-lanes. The geopolitical reality is that due to proximity and economic clout, China’s access to this region will increase. This could not only be detrimental to America’s economic interests, but also represent a strategic threat.

It is in America and ASEANs best interest for the U.S. to not only promote further ASEAN integration, but also establish stronger ties with the region. This will enable ASEAN to serve as a fulcrum between China (and India). America must also realize that China’s increasing penetration into Southeast Asia is not a zero-sum game; the U.S. must be prepared to have a constructive working relationship with China in the region. If the America hopes to balance China’s growing influence it will need a rapprochement with ASEAN that displays a cohesive policy for the organization, but at the same time exploit the diversity of opinion within ASEAN. This will allow the U.S. to advance its policy goals in the region.

China

Over the last decade, China’s resurgent role in Southeast Asia has moved from a situation that generated fear in the region, to one where China is seen as a benign regional leader that plays a constructive role in creating opportunity. China has worked hard to market this image while participating in regional institutions. Its long-term goals are to create greater interdependencies between itself and Southeast Asia through economic incentives, which will give ASEAN a strong stake in China’s success. In this way, ASEAN can serve as insurance against possible U.S., Japanese, Indian containment in the South China Sea and Indian Ocean. At the same time, Beijing hopes it can simultaneously reduce the influence of the United States in the South China Sea.

China is increasing its political reach in the region through a series of strong bilateral ties with ASEAN member-states. These links include increased cooperation in regional security (including providing military training), scholarships, and helping to facilitate conflict resolution in the region. China has also promised over US$10 billion in infrastructure, energy, and cultural programs between the countries. China has especially provided special assistance to the lesser developed states of Cambodia, Laos, and Myanmar.

During the 1997 Asian financial Crisis, America did not provide significant leadership, which left room for China advance itself as a regional leader, often at the expense of Japan. China promised not to devalue its currency, the Renminbi, which helped return stability to the markets, a move much praised in the region. Tokyo worked to provide a competitive framework for an Asian Monetary fund, in an effort to engender long-term stability. Washington repeatedly blocked this endeavor, out of fear it would be froze-out by a potential Asian bloc. Japan and China are still pushing their competing ideas of a greater-East Asia economic sphere, but the main difference between the two nations is that Japan wishes to include Australia, New Zealand, and India in an attempt to minimize the influence of China. Obviously, China is not interested in having none ASEAN and East Asian nations involved.

The idea for an Asian Monetary Fund did not die. In February 2008, the ASEAN+3 forum in Thailand agreed to expand bilateral currency swaps and also enlarge the Chiang Mai Initiative reserve fund in order to enhance regional economic stability in the wake of the current global financial crisis. This goal has prompted ASEAN+3, in coordination with the Asian Development Bank (ADB), to develop an Asian Currency Unit (ACU) as part of a comprehensive Asian Monetary Fund. China has promoted the idea, which has gained wide regional support. China championing this effort appears surprising considering past objections; however, Beijing is supportive of the ACU because it is now able to take a greater leadership role in its management than Japan, whereas it was not in a position to do so 10 years earlier. Although meant to be non-tradable, the ACU would be an indicator of the stability of participating currencies in the region, an Asian version of the European Currency Unit, which was the precursor to the Euro. Due to the wide variance in levels of economic development, the sophistication of financial transfer systems, and the levels of nationalism in the Pacific Rim, a single currency for the region is still unlikely.

What ASEAN Needs

Western analyst had long criticized and even dismissed ASEAN; the common narrative characterized the organization as soft on human rights and democracy, and therefore incapable of taking decisive and constructive action concerning regional issues that were important to the West. Some pasts areas of conflict involved human rights in Myanmar and East Timor, as well as issues of democracy in key members states like Singapore, Indonesia, and Malaysia. Part of the problem is that Western observers have not tended to judge ASEAN on its own merit, but instead, based on how it compares to the contemporary European Union (EU). As a result, ASEAN has never been fully respected by the United States.

For their part, not all ASEAN members have been eager to see a stronger American presence in the region. In the 1990’s, former Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad called for a greater East Asian forum, which would exclude the U.S., Australia, and New Zealand. Many in the region termed this the “caucus without Caucasians”, something Washington successfully nixed, but to only see it rebooted a decade later as ASEAN+3.

At the time, the exclusion of Western nations reflected the regional vogue of “Asian Values”, an ideology trumpeted by Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, along with some political thinkers in Japan. Those who adhered to this ideology espoused that all Asians share distinctive cultural traits that make them fundamentally different from Westerners; therefore, Western political and social norms were not entirely appropriate for Asian societies. Some of these shared Asian values are a preference for social harmony, government paternalism, collectivism over the rights of individuals, respect toward authority, and a greater concern for socio-economic stability over human rights.

By the turn of the century, deeply pragmatic ASEAN states came to the realization that it was impossible to push Western powers out of the region, so it began what was termed, “constructive engagement” with all of them. Under this policy, ASEAN intends to hedge its relationship with the larger powers (China, India, America, and Australia) as an intermediary, reaping the benefits for its member states. Singapore Minister of Foreign Affairs George Yeo, speaking for ASEAN to the press in November 2007, described the importance of America to Southeast Asia: “In short, no major strategic issue in Asia can be resolved without the active participation of the U.S” (Marciel 2008).

America’s Next Move

In the aftermath of 9-11, the bulk of Washington’s foreign policy capacity was consumed by wars in the Middle East and Central Asia. Major initiatives in Southeast Asia fell by the wayside as the primary focus moved to counterterrorism and other security concerns. Even when America’s focus broadened beyond the “War on Terror” into issues of trade, its approach was often ineffectual. The U.S. cannot afford to squander another decade in the region teetering between security issues and weak trade.

The 2005, Joint Vision Statement on the ASEAN-U.S. Enhanced Partnership was not enough to secure America’s future in Southeast Asia; Washington needs to define, create, and utilize more avenues of regular dialogue between itself and ASEAN. Although the U.S. and ASEAN have enjoyed relations for 30 years, no regular annual summits have ever been established. Shoring up the 21-member Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum (APEC) is a good place to begin, but it should only be a pass-through for more specialized U.S.-ASEAN talks. The current lack of contact hurts America’s ability to focus its attention on ASEAN states. The U.S. should encourage East/Southeast Asian integration, because it will help to socialize and constrain provocative movements by China. It may also encourage American investors to do greater business in the region, as the various types of independent national laws and regulations are streamlined. Nevertheless, America should also exploit areas of friction between ASEAN and China, as well as the lack of cohesion within ASEAN.

Although China has achieved strong ties with certain members of ASEAN, many nations in the region, such as Malaysia, the Philippines, and Vietnam still maintain a healthy fear of Chinese hegemony and anti-Chinese sentiment in their populations has not yet abated. There have been complaints, by some ASEAN members, that China pushed bilateral FTA negotiations to isolate nations that were not very pro-China, such as Malaysia and Vietnam. Southeast Asian diplomats have also grumbled that China’s influence has hindered consensus building within ASEAN as member nations try to gage Beijing’s potential reaction.

The U.S. has also not closely engaged China-friendly states, such as Myanmar and Cambodia. This is especially true in the case of Myanmar due to human rights concerns, which have resulted in embargoes that have resulted in little political change. The U.S. needs a more pragmatic approach. These nations would be very receptive to American competition for their attention.

The United States and Japan remain the largest investors in the region and the largest ASEAN export receivers. China is not close to eclipsing the U.S. in hard power projection and America is still the largest source of popular culture. With respect to trade, some ASEAN members are not pleased that Early Harvest has allowed China to compete in raw materials, agricultural products, and minerals it did not produce, whereas China will eventually have lower tariff free access to manufacturing markets that ASEAN and Chinese firms were already competing in.

The U.S. has much more work to do on the free trade front. Thus far, America has only one FTA completed agreements, in the nearly 15 years since the U.S. initiated its first Asia-Pacific TIFA, with Singapore in 1991. There are stalled negotiations for FTAs with Thailand and Malaysia, and the Philippines and Indonesia have expressed interest in FTAs. Besides FTAs, policymakers have other eco­nomically significant agreements available, including the expansion of trade and investment framework agree­ments (TIFA) and open skies agreements (OSA). A TIFA is a consultative mechanism for the United States to discuss trade issues, and an OSA creates free markets for aviation services. America has TIFAs with ASEAN, but TIFAs and OSAs have been severely underutilized. Unlike China, the U.S. should work as multilateral as possible with ASEAN to avoid the negative effects of export diversion and encourage ASEAN unity.

Long term, the U.S. could do more in advancing the scope of FTAs and OSAs in Asia. A region-wide agreement would better reduce regional trade barriers, increase U.S.-ASEAN trade, and advance American security interests. The U.S. must stop blocking Japan’s attempts to project a competing vision of Asian unity, because it has not worked. The only result is Japan losing influence to China, which is not in Japan or America’s national interests. Instead, Washington can work with Japan to promote shared interests inside the ASEAN+3 framework, where Japan can serve as a U.S. proxy on specific issues critical to both nations. This would be a similar relationship to what the U.S. enjoys with Britain with respect to the European Union. Currently, Northeast Asia’s economic heavyweights are the world’s last remaining region that lacks an inter-governmental trade bloc, such as ASEAN. The U.S. does not want to find itself outside such a teaming, so it should be working with Japan to create one that is more inclusive. Even if FTAs are not politically feasible, the US should focus on TIFAs for high priority areas of interest.

Lastly, the U.S. should do what it must to gain Japan’s assistance in fighting any attempts for an tradable ACU, because that could limit U.S. government’s ability to finance its larger budget deficits at relatively low interest.

Notes:

As discussed in Part I of this series, the ASEAN-China Free Trade Agreement (ACFTA) will be a win-win for the signatories. The agreement will produce greater economies of scales, as it expands trade between members, which will result in an aggregate increase in competitive export products from China and ASEAN. However, it will not foreshadow European-style regional integration, at least not in the near future. The centrifugal force generated by the agreement will not only draw ASEAN closer to China, the regions manufacturing hub, but it will push those states outside the bloc to liberalize their own trade in order to stay competitive. While the United States is generally supportive of ASEAN, it is not in the strategic interest of the U.S. for it to be outside of an Asian economic bloc, especially one that will aid in cementing a strong Chinese leadership position in Southeast Asia. Implementation of this agreement has increased concerns among some analysts that the economic and perhaps, the political center of gravity of the region are shifting away from the United States and toward China.

Over the last 10 years, Southeast Asia has received approximately US$90 billion in U.S. foreign direct investment (FDI); it is the third largest market for U.S. exports; and U.S.-ASEAN trade is over US$140 billion (Pitsuwan 2008). Southeast Asia is flush with agricultural and natural resources, and is home to more than half of the world’s annual merchant shipping traffic. Intraregional trade between ASEAN nations still hovers at 25% and in East Asia, it now verges on 55% (Pitsuwan 2008). Over 80% of Japanese and Chinese oil imports travel through these sea-lanes. The geopolitical reality is that due to proximity and economic clout, China’s access to this region will increase. This could not only be detrimental to America’s economic interests, but also represent a strategic threat.

It is in America and ASEANs best interest for the U.S. to not only promote further ASEAN integration, but also establish stronger ties with the region. This will enable ASEAN to serve as a fulcrum between China (and India). America must also realize that China’s increasing penetration into Southeast Asia is not a zero-sum game; the U.S. must be prepared to have a constructive working relationship with China in the region. If the America hopes to balance China’s growing influence it will need a rapprochement with ASEAN that displays a cohesive policy for the organization, but at the same time exploit the diversity of opinion within ASEAN. This will allow the U.S. to advance its policy goals in the region.

China

Over the last decade, China’s resurgent role in Southeast Asia has moved from a situation that generated fear in the region, to one where China is seen as a benign regional leader that plays a constructive role in creating opportunity. China has worked hard to market this image while participating in regional institutions. Its long-term goals are to create greater interdependencies between itself and Southeast Asia through economic incentives, which will give ASEAN a strong stake in China’s success. In this way, ASEAN can serve as insurance against possible U.S., Japanese, Indian containment in the South China Sea and Indian Ocean. At the same time, Beijing hopes it can simultaneously reduce the influence of the United States in the South China Sea.

China is increasing its political reach in the region through a series of strong bilateral ties with ASEAN member-states. These links include increased cooperation in regional security (including providing military training), scholarships, and helping to facilitate conflict resolution in the region. China has also promised over US$10 billion in infrastructure, energy, and cultural programs between the countries. China has especially provided special assistance to the lesser developed states of Cambodia, Laos, and Myanmar.

During the 1997 Asian financial Crisis, America did not provide significant leadership, which left room for China advance itself as a regional leader, often at the expense of Japan. China promised not to devalue its currency, the Renminbi, which helped return stability to the markets, a move much praised in the region. Tokyo worked to provide a competitive framework for an Asian Monetary fund, in an effort to engender long-term stability. Washington repeatedly blocked this endeavor, out of fear it would be froze-out by a potential Asian bloc. Japan and China are still pushing their competing ideas of a greater-East Asia economic sphere, but the main difference between the two nations is that Japan wishes to include Australia, New Zealand, and India in an attempt to minimize the influence of China. Obviously, China is not interested in having none ASEAN and East Asian nations involved.

The idea for an Asian Monetary Fund did not die. In February 2008, the ASEAN+3 forum in Thailand agreed to expand bilateral currency swaps and also enlarge the Chiang Mai Initiative reserve fund in order to enhance regional economic stability in the wake of the current global financial crisis. This goal has prompted ASEAN+3, in coordination with the Asian Development Bank (ADB), to develop an Asian Currency Unit (ACU) as part of a comprehensive Asian Monetary Fund. China has promoted the idea, which has gained wide regional support. China championing this effort appears surprising considering past objections; however, Beijing is supportive of the ACU because it is now able to take a greater leadership role in its management than Japan, whereas it was not in a position to do so 10 years earlier. Although meant to be non-tradable, the ACU would be an indicator of the stability of participating currencies in the region, an Asian version of the European Currency Unit, which was the precursor to the Euro. Due to the wide variance in levels of economic development, the sophistication of financial transfer systems, and the levels of nationalism in the Pacific Rim, a single currency for the region is still unlikely.

What ASEAN Needs

Western analyst had long criticized and even dismissed ASEAN; the common narrative characterized the organization as soft on human rights and democracy, and therefore incapable of taking decisive and constructive action concerning regional issues that were important to the West. Some pasts areas of conflict involved human rights in Myanmar and East Timor, as well as issues of democracy in key members states like Singapore, Indonesia, and Malaysia. Part of the problem is that Western observers have not tended to judge ASEAN on its own merit, but instead, based on how it compares to the contemporary European Union (EU). As a result, ASEAN has never been fully respected by the United States.

For their part, not all ASEAN members have been eager to see a stronger American presence in the region. In the 1990’s, former Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad called for a greater East Asian forum, which would exclude the U.S., Australia, and New Zealand. Many in the region termed this the “caucus without Caucasians”, something Washington successfully nixed, but to only see it rebooted a decade later as ASEAN+3.

At the time, the exclusion of Western nations reflected the regional vogue of “Asian Values”, an ideology trumpeted by Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, along with some political thinkers in Japan. Those who adhered to this ideology espoused that all Asians share distinctive cultural traits that make them fundamentally different from Westerners; therefore, Western political and social norms were not entirely appropriate for Asian societies. Some of these shared Asian values are a preference for social harmony, government paternalism, collectivism over the rights of individuals, respect toward authority, and a greater concern for socio-economic stability over human rights.

By the turn of the century, deeply pragmatic ASEAN states came to the realization that it was impossible to push Western powers out of the region, so it began what was termed, “constructive engagement” with all of them. Under this policy, ASEAN intends to hedge its relationship with the larger powers (China, India, America, and Australia) as an intermediary, reaping the benefits for its member states. Singapore Minister of Foreign Affairs George Yeo, speaking for ASEAN to the press in November 2007, described the importance of America to Southeast Asia: “In short, no major strategic issue in Asia can be resolved without the active participation of the U.S” (Marciel 2008).

America’s Next Move

In the aftermath of 9-11, the bulk of Washington’s foreign policy capacity was consumed by wars in the Middle East and Central Asia. Major initiatives in Southeast Asia fell by the wayside as the primary focus moved to counterterrorism and other security concerns. Even when America’s focus broadened beyond the “War on Terror” into issues of trade, its approach was often ineffectual. The U.S. cannot afford to squander another decade in the region teetering between security issues and weak trade.

The 2005, Joint Vision Statement on the ASEAN-U.S. Enhanced Partnership was not enough to secure America’s future in Southeast Asia; Washington needs to define, create, and utilize more avenues of regular dialogue between itself and ASEAN. Although the U.S. and ASEAN have enjoyed relations for 30 years, no regular annual summits have ever been established. Shoring up the 21-member Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum (APEC) is a good place to begin, but it should only be a pass-through for more specialized U.S.-ASEAN talks. The current lack of contact hurts America’s ability to focus its attention on ASEAN states. The U.S. should encourage East/Southeast Asian integration, because it will help to socialize and constrain provocative movements by China. It may also encourage American investors to do greater business in the region, as the various types of independent national laws and regulations are streamlined. Nevertheless, America should also exploit areas of friction between ASEAN and China, as well as the lack of cohesion within ASEAN.

Although China has achieved strong ties with certain members of ASEAN, many nations in the region, such as Malaysia, the Philippines, and Vietnam still maintain a healthy fear of Chinese hegemony and anti-Chinese sentiment in their populations has not yet abated. There have been complaints, by some ASEAN members, that China pushed bilateral FTA negotiations to isolate nations that were not very pro-China, such as Malaysia and Vietnam. Southeast Asian diplomats have also grumbled that China’s influence has hindered consensus building within ASEAN as member nations try to gage Beijing’s potential reaction.

The U.S. has also not closely engaged China-friendly states, such as Myanmar and Cambodia. This is especially true in the case of Myanmar due to human rights concerns, which have resulted in embargoes that have resulted in little political change. The U.S. needs a more pragmatic approach. These nations would be very receptive to American competition for their attention.

The United States and Japan remain the largest investors in the region and the largest ASEAN export receivers. China is not close to eclipsing the U.S. in hard power projection and America is still the largest source of popular culture. With respect to trade, some ASEAN members are not pleased that Early Harvest has allowed China to compete in raw materials, agricultural products, and minerals it did not produce, whereas China will eventually have lower tariff free access to manufacturing markets that ASEAN and Chinese firms were already competing in.

The U.S. has much more work to do on the free trade front. Thus far, America has only one FTA completed agreements, in the nearly 15 years since the U.S. initiated its first Asia-Pacific TIFA, with Singapore in 1991. There are stalled negotiations for FTAs with Thailand and Malaysia, and the Philippines and Indonesia have expressed interest in FTAs. Besides FTAs, policymakers have other eco­nomically significant agreements available, including the expansion of trade and investment framework agree­ments (TIFA) and open skies agreements (OSA). A TIFA is a consultative mechanism for the United States to discuss trade issues, and an OSA creates free markets for aviation services. America has TIFAs with ASEAN, but TIFAs and OSAs have been severely underutilized. Unlike China, the U.S. should work as multilateral as possible with ASEAN to avoid the negative effects of export diversion and encourage ASEAN unity.

Long term, the U.S. could do more in advancing the scope of FTAs and OSAs in Asia. A region-wide agreement would better reduce regional trade barriers, increase U.S.-ASEAN trade, and advance American security interests. The U.S. must stop blocking Japan’s attempts to project a competing vision of Asian unity, because it has not worked. The only result is Japan losing influence to China, which is not in Japan or America’s national interests. Instead, Washington can work with Japan to promote shared interests inside the ASEAN+3 framework, where Japan can serve as a U.S. proxy on specific issues critical to both nations. This would be a similar relationship to what the U.S. enjoys with Britain with respect to the European Union. Currently, Northeast Asia’s economic heavyweights are the world’s last remaining region that lacks an inter-governmental trade bloc, such as ASEAN. The U.S. does not want to find itself outside such a teaming, so it should be working with Japan to create one that is more inclusive. Even if FTAs are not politically feasible, the US should focus on TIFAs for high priority areas of interest.

Lastly, the U.S. should do what it must to gain Japan’s assistance in fighting any attempts for an tradable ACU, because that could limit U.S. government’s ability to finance its larger budget deficits at relatively low interest.

Notes:

Pitsuwan, Surin. 2008. “Bolstering U.S.-ASEAN Cooperation”

Japan Times Online.

Marciel, Scot A. 2008. “Remarks to Center o Strategic International Studies Meeting

‘U.S. and Southeast Asia: Toward a Strategy for Enhanced Engagement'”

U.S. State Department.

Forecast America 2008 – The Church and the Nation

As a fledgling believer about four decades ago I began to have dreams. They were like movie previews of events to come usually personal but at times more universal in nature. It was spooky enough having the dreams but even more unsettling was the fact that of several thousand dreams over the years not one was ever wrong.

Always checking the dreams against the Bible to make sure there were no inconsistencies was my first rule of interpretation. But often my dreams needed no interpretation; they came on a “what you see is what you get” basis. I saw the events exactly as they happened; no interpretation needed.

I’ve never accepted the ability to view the future as merely novel or interesting but have approached it all with the deepest sense of responsibility. The Bible strictly warns that if someone purports to have heard from God when they have not they will be totally responsible for that error, or lie if they are mistaken or just being presumptuous.

Very few dreams had to do with world events for which I have always been thankful. I believe I will see more as the need arises. In one dream I did see the return of the Lord and in another message I was warned of an economic collapse in America that will dwarf the stock market crash and the dust bowl days combined. I can see the future but I can’t predict what God may show me about the future.

What has guided me over the years has been the definition of a prophet I found in the Bible and one other source. The biblical definition says “And he said, hear now my words: If there be a prophet among you, I the LORD will make myself known unto him in a vision, and will speak unto him in a dream.” (Nu 12:6)

The other definition was that a prophet is one who “tells forth the will and counsel of God.” This definition implies that prophecy is not relegated to only speaking about the future and is in perfect harmony with a verse from the book of Revelation that says “the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy.” (Rev 19:10)

Today more Bible prophecy is being fulfilled than in any other time in history. The two major events having to do with Jesus Christ are his first coming (Messianic prophecies) and then his second coming (pre-millennial prophecies.) Obviously the bulk of prophecies yet to unfold are pre-millennial. Up to about one quarter of the Bible is made up of pre-millennial prophecies.

As a boy I watched my grandfather load himself and a few of my uncles into an old flatbed truck and travel 35 miles to a nearby city to consult with a Portuguese Feiteceira (witch) who would tell him why his poultry business was not doing so well at times. He would slay a few chickens and throw them on his neighbor’s front yard to break the curse and go on with business as usual.

This is not prophecy as the Bible sees it. In fact this book that speaks so much about future events has serious warnings about seeking the future or pretending to know the future. Prophesying for money, prognosticating, witchcraft, necromancy, (reading the liver) astrology, stargazing, psychic reading and soothsaying are all strictly prohibited by the scriptures. If God has something to say he alone picks his mouthpieces and he alone certifies them. The most unique thing about these oracles is this; they never prophesy anything that conflicts with or denies the “prior” revelation…the Bible.

Many people are studying the prophetic side of the scriptures today. That study is referred to most often as “eschatology.” Unfortunately not everyone doing these studies is qualified. Those who are Biblically grounded and who shun liberal interpretation are seen to be the most reliable. These matters are not for the novice or the person who is just dabbling.

Many certified eschatologists are also good at making predictions or accurate forecasts about the future because they compare current events against the prophecies in a responsible and balanced fashion. You won’t hear a lot of “thus saith the Lord” from these kinds of people. They will research, analyze, and speculate in a learned and biblically grounded manner and their view of things can generally be trusted. It behooves the hearer to pick your prophets with care.

One thing you will never hear from a real prophet is the naming of a specific date or time for the return of the Lord. Christ strictly warned that no man would know the exact time of his return. (Mt 24:36) What Christ did say was that we would be able to see the season or the generation in which his return was imminent (Mt 24:32) and not to see it would be our folly. Refusing to see it is even worse and even that was prophesied to come as well.

It is in the spirit of the aforementioned that I make my predictions for America for 2008. They are “soft predictions” so don’t get nervous. But do watch carefully because you will lose most of the bets against their accuracy if you are a gambling person.

If a liberal democrat of the top contender variety is chosen to lead this county in the upcoming election all bets are off. My forecast for America if that happens is far too bleak. That eventuation would produce the fastest and most severe downward social and moral trend this country has ever experienced. I am speaking here of a Clinton or Obama win in the race for president as if I really needed to say that.

Keeping in mind that the President represents only one part of our three branches of government and the social trends of the population can often outweigh all three branches of government. We can’t hold a single leader up to more than they can produce. If a conservative values based individual like Alan Keyes or Mike Huckabee is chosen the difference will be large but the will of the people must never be left out of the equation.

In fact it is the “will of the people” that is my next prediction. Government by representation has severely faltered in America over the last decade. Our reps are not voting our will like they used to. In the EU failure to get the remaining countries into the EU block of nations has resulted in the abandonment of popular votes and referendums. Now the parliamentary decisions are being counted on more than ever rather than the will of the people. Enter America.

Government that Ronald Reagan tried so hard to make less lumbering and unwieldy has re-fattened in the last decade. The fed will tell us how we are going to live; it’s easier than wading through millions of opinions and cumbersome referendums. Top reps are streamlining much legislation on local, state and federal levels with or without regarding the “will of the people” to wit California’s twisted and almost unbelievable passing of SB777. Lest we forget the other brazen example of the slaughter of “for the people and by the people” the NAFTA derived Mexamerica superhighway controversy looms large as a perfect example of leaving out the “will of the people.”

As for sharing pulpits with candidates who think babies have no rights and gays should have even more rights, this is all part of the well defined “apostasy” of the church promised in Biblical prophecy. Preachers with mega-churches who refuse to call men to repentance and salvation through Christ’s sacrifice on the cross are also part of the predicted “falling away.” Prosperity gospel, cotton candy religion and feel good theologies are all elements that will leave the church divided and impotent more in 2008 than ever before. I predict that apostate churches will flourish in 2008. I can add that these churches will be the first to be struck down by the Antichrist and the most severely dealt with by secular forces in the not too distant future.

Conversions to Christianity will continue to flourish in third world countries as they are now in parts of Africa, Central America and South America. China will continue to see the Christian faith grow in spite of fierce resistance and persecution. This must not be read as proof that the apostasy is not underway. God is able to keep both promise and prophecy fulfilled and moving forward at the same time. One of the last day’s signs is that the gospel will be preached throughout the world at the very same time that whole nations will be tearing up the roots of the church and eventually directly opposing and persecuting the church worldwide.

I believe that natural disasters will occur with greater frequency than ever before in 2008. Perhaps some serious earthquakes in the western US and some deadly weather conditions around the rest of the country. As always no one in the secular world will acknowledge that any of this has to do with Gods direct influence. Increased frequencies of any natural phenomena will be noticed but attributed to natural causes and glibly explained away by scientists and other “experts.”

On the positive side many wandering stars will be re-gathered in 2008. Thousands of people who have been straddling the fence for years will return to the faith they were once tutored in. Additionally new converts will sweep across every age group and the intensity of their conversions will be notable. They will be accompanied by dreams, visions and even some miracles. An entire generation of Joel 2:28 Christians will begin to emerge in 2008. If you know the scripture this promise has probably just lifted your heart and maybe produced a smile on your face, if you do not know what Joel 2:28 says nothing said here will make any difference anyway.

Finally events in the rest of the world will catapult America into some sudden foreign policy changes. Iran will prove to be the peskiest and ultimately the most dangerous influence in the Middle East. Europe will flex new muscle politically, militarily and the Euro will push the dollar down to new lows before a worldwide economy emerges. 2008 will see upheavals in the economies of several countries and Canada will be among them.

Hollywood, TV and media in general will plunge to new depths of prurient immorality and the government will have little effectiveness in curbing it. It will be a year of giving the people “what they really want” even if it is choking them to death.

2008 could be said to be the year of the sinking ship. An old analogy used by evangelists years ago now will take on new meaning in 08. A large ship stranded at sea with no power or ability to communicate is sinking fast as the Captain comes down to the grand ballroom to announce what looks like the greatest act of benevolence ever seen at sea. He announces that the ships stores are open to all and they can have anything they desire and they can do anything they want to do. The passengers are gleefully delighted and begin to indulge themselves without reservation.

A few sailors and passengers who know what is really going on try to warn the rest that the ship is taking on water from below and is sinking. These doomsayers are mocked, scorned and ridiculed. The analogy is simple the ship sinks! The more personal license and uninhibited behavior that is encouraged in any society is directly linked to the amount of time to the final plunge to the bottom. 2008 will be taking on water at an alarming rate and a few sailors will be trying to herald the warning against a backdrop of self assured collective solipsism and the deep blindness caused by self indulgence. God help us in 2008.

As I move down the one way road toward the end of my walk in this old world two things grow stronger everyday. One is the love I have for my God and his son the Lord Jesus Christ, the other is the love I have for America. It is because of both that I can say that with prophetic fulfillment comes a dark night upon the whole earth. I can say with Christ that if your going to work some good with your life you had better do it now because “the night cometh, when no man can work.” John 9:4

If you are a conservative American don’t be discouraged because a few names have fallen off the wagon. Remember the alternatives and that most of the liberals were not ever on the wagon to begin with. Fight the good fight.

As for faith in God remember as the ball drops this year in Times Square there is also a door closing to a countdown of God’s prophetic timetable. Don’t bother with a New Years resolution and don’t insult God by bringing in the New Year with a drunk and a midnight kiss. Its not about resolutions or reformations it’s about repentance. Pause as the New Year comes in and get right with God.

With a simple and heartfelt prayer in the privacy of your home, office or car you can call upon Christ to forgive all your sins and invite him to come into your life. He won’t refuse anyone and that always included you. Happy New Year America!

Communism Is Right For China

Americans are afraid of communism because is goes against everything we stand for. For as long as I can remember, I’ve been taught that America is Freedom. Without freedom, life is not worth l living. It’s given to us at birth. It’s part of our culture and inseparable from history. Bear with me as the details are becoming fuzzy. High school American history class seems further and further away, but considering I’m in the same boat with most Americans on this one, this is how I remember it.

The king of England was a despotic and tyrannical ruler and tried to impose new religion upon his people, some of which refused to accept this new blasphemous way of life. So they decided to move to a new land, where they would not be persecuted – America. They got to America but the kind was still trying to exercise his rule over this new colony with tea, and taxes, etc. This continued for a while until we had enough. We fought the good fight and through perseverance and with the name of Good on our side, we won. We created a new country that would not repeat the same mistakes of the past. No one ruler was fit to make decisions for everyone; therefore this power would be put into the hands of the people. Everyone would be free unless that freedom imposed upon the freedom of others.

This idea of freedom and the American way stayed with us for three hundred years. Our forefathers were people who fought “the man” and won. They were rebels who took down the system for the good everyone and despite all the nay-sayers, created a newer, better way of life.

It’s not the same in China.

China has 5000 years of a single, infallible man with a God-given right ruling everyone. From the time of tribal society, to feudalism, emperors, into the communism of Mao Zi dong and now “socialism with Chinese characteristics”, their society has always been ruled in this way. Anyone who rebelled was quickly silenced. Equally, on a much smaller scale, family values, based very heavily on Confucianism, says that sons must listen to fathers, younger brothers to older brothers, women to men, workers to bosses, as well as many other ‘natural’ roles of society which one must abide to. These are the pillars of society and the way things are meant to be. Without this structure, we’re all destined to be climbing in the trees. If you break these rules, you’re a rogue, a menace to society, an outcast.

Furthermore, China is just so big; you can’t possibly listen to everyone. I’m an English teacher in China so I sympathize. The difference between a class of 8 and 20 is immense. The way you teach, reward, and punish is completely different. Sure it’s great for everyone to contribute with a class of eight. When I’ve got an hour to teach the past participle to a class of twenty middle school students? The girl in the back on her mobile phone – forget her. The guy trying to make a joke about my big nose – get out. In the same fashion, China’s government must be different to that of America’s. The history, culture, and size requires it. Sure there are problems with their system, but is American democracy flawless? I say rake the leave on your own front yard before you stark raking someone else’s. China knows best how to deal with Chinese problems.