China's re-emergence as a global superpower is possibly the major global political and economic factor in the first decades of the 21st Century. China is growing more assertive in international diplomacy and political engagement. The pragmatic marriage of centralized state control with an increasingly capitalist economy has achieved stupendous financial growth. But such growth, fuelled by massive consumption of resources, cannot be sustained indefinitely; what happens when the bubble bursts will have a global impact. The major demographic shift to an aged population (as a result of the one-child policy) will place great burdens on those of working age. The huge gender gap - in many areas, a shortfall of 20-30% from equal gender balance - has further serious implications for long-term societal stability. The quasi-colonization by ethnic Han of China's hinterlands (Inner Mongolia, Xinjiang, Qinghai, Tibet, Yunnan) and accelerating immigration to under-populated and under-developed Russian Siberia are all potentially calamitous to the indigenous populations. Pray for God's will to be done, in China as in heaven.
The unresolved conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. All international efforts to broker a viable peace deal have ultimately failed. There are deep differences between the claimants - on the land and on Jerusalem itself - with hawkish elements in both groups. While Israel continues to settle its people on occupied land and while Muslim nations refuse to recognize Israel's rights of existence and sovereignty, a peaceful resolution is highly unlikely. Factoring in antagonistic external players, without heavenly intervention, future war seems almost inevitable - the nations involved are all preparing for this possibility. Desperation, hatred and the fearsome arsenals of weapons would generate a terrifying toll on the region. Pray for all parties involved in the confrontation and for world leaders attempting to defuse the situation.
The Himalayas region simmers with tension. The conflict over Kashmir is the most intractable of problems, with Pakistan and India (and China) holding conflicting claims over territory. The Kashmir dispute has profoundly shaped Pakistan's domestic and foreign policies, has provoked an arms race between Pakistan and India and has already resulted in four wars. China and India are in dispute over territorial claims not just in Kashmir but also in Arunachal Pradesh and Ladakh. Strife also exists over India's hosting of the Tibetan government-in-exile and in Tibet itself. Add to this the Nepal Civil War of 1996-2006 (and continuing tensions), and you have a region filled with potential flashpoints.
Unrest in Southeast Asia is due to a combination of political and religious factors. The fault line in Thailand's political impasse seems unbridgeable and may point to more intense civil strife - or even war - in the future; Muslim unrest in the south of the country adds to the pressure. While Indonesia has stabilized somewhat, threats remain to its integrity even as rumblings of deeper discontent in Malaysia can be heard. This arises from the complex interplay of weak democratic government, vested interests, rising Islamic extremism and ethnic resentments.
The deep mistrust between the Persian Shi'a Muslim and the Arab Sunni Muslim worlds. The seven-year Iran-Iraq War in the 1980s, and the conflict and manoeuvering after the Second Gulf War (2003ff), the manipulation of the Arab Spring protests in several nations, and the current proxy war in Yemen are all recent chapters in the centuries-old conflict. Iran's nuclear developments and increasing regional assertiveness - especially via the Shi'as in Iraq - significantly affect this religious and political fault line.
The Golden Triangle (parts of Myanmar, Thailand, Laos, Vietnam and Yunnan), already notorious for insurgency, lawlessness, drug production and trafficking, has now added human trafficking to its list of evils.
The Korean Peninsula has remained one of the world's most dangerous flash points since the Korean War ceasefire of 1953. As North Korea gets ever more desperate to maintain an untenable system, the chance of collapse, crisis or even war increases. The deaths of millions by starvation and the North's nuclear ambitions make this a weighty and urgent issue. Pray for an end to the sufferings of North Koreans and for a wisely managed eventual reunification of Korea.
Afghanistan's troubles are not yet over. It still sits under foreign military presence and a flawed and fledgling political system. The Taliban violently oppose both the former and the latter, and their influence is still significant in several regions of Afghanistan and Pakistan. Afghanistan has known only war for so many decades, yet stability is being established - and the good news is carefully, subtly being shared and demonstrated.
Yemen has descended into a nightmarish situation combining a civil war with religious overtones, foreign interference with a proxy war being fought between Sunni and Shia nations in Yemen, widespread destruction in an already impoverished land, and a huge humanitarian disaster. It would take a miracle to see Yemen become a united, stable, prosperous nation.
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Content taken or adapted from Operation World, 7th Edition (2010) and Pray for the World (2015). Both books are published by InterVarsity Press. All rights reserved.