Televangelist Pat Robertson said the United States should seek economic partnership with China, while predicting the nation’s growing materialism could create a spiritual void and eventually lead millions of Chinese to embrace Christianity.

In China to further humanitarian work of CBN China and explore future media opportunities, Robertson met Wednesday with Chinese Vice Premier Hui liangyu, who, according to Chinese media, praised the American broadcaster for charity work in western China including poverty reduction and disaster relief.

In a “700 Club” interview from Beijing, Robertson said he was most stunned by China’s economic growth since he first visited the nation in 1979.

“Before long there are going to be two major economies,” Robertson said. “There is going to be us, the United States, and there is going to be China. That’s the way the world is going to break down.”

But along with prosperity, Robertson said, China is beginning to struggle with some of the problems often associated with the West.

“I think the breakdown of the family and the breakdown of the moral structure is happening very rapidly with materialism,” he said. “I have warned these people, when I meet with high government leaders, that materialism will destroy them. And I think that is the danger above all else that they face is they will become so consumed with materialism, with seeking pleasure, with essentially carnal lust, if I can use a biblical term. You’ll see the rise of AIDS. You’ll see the rise of unwanted pregnancies. You’ll see all the social pathologies that they don’t need in this country.”

Robertson, who ran for president in 1988, said if the U.S. “plays it properly” it has nothing to fear from a rising China.

“I think we need to reach out to the Chinese and realize in truth that in 20, 30, 40 or 50 years we will be partners in a world, in a sense sharing the world, as the two great economic powers,” he said. “But if we set up a rivalry, and we begin to try to hurt China, then China can come back and hurt us very badly.”

Robertson has a long record of coziness with China’s leaders, along with millions of dollars in investments in Chinese cable TV and Internet deals.

In 1995 Robertson’s International Family Entertainment Inc., spent $10 million to acquire China Entertainment Broadcast Ltd., a “no sex, no news, no violence” programmer reaching 28 million households. One of Robertson’s China partners was the Lippo Group, an Indonesian conglomerate connected with illegal campaign contributions to President Clinton in 1996.

Robertson sold the International Family Network for $1.9 billion in 1997 to Fox, which in turn sold it to Disney, which renamed it ABC Family.

In 1998, Robertson traveled to China, where he met with top government officials and praised religious freedom in the country. “China is in the midst of building an economic miracle,” he was quoted as saying. “Furthermore, the people of China are enjoying religious freedom to a degree far greater than has been described by the American media.”

That trip was initiated by the Committee of 100, a New-York based group of prominent Chinese-Americans founded in 1990 to encourage stronger relations between the U.S. and Greater China.

In 2001 Robertson received criticism for saying the U.S. shouldn’t interfere with China’s one-child policy, which is enforced by abortion. At the time he had reportedly invested $3 million in Zhaodaola, a Yahoo!-type Internet portal in China, which eventually was criticized as a conduit for government propaganda and shut down during a slowdown in international investment after 9/11. It is unclear whether he recovered any of his money.

Robertson broke ranks with conservatives like Gary Bauer, Pat Buchanan and James Dobson, who all advocated blocking China’s 2002 entry into the World Trade Organization because of the country’s poor record on human rights.

Robertson’s international business dealings have landed him in trouble before.

He reportedly lost between $1 million and $5 million a diamond-mine venture in Zaire involving dictator Mobutu Sese Seku. Controversy erupted when he was caught using Operation Blessing cargo planes to move mining equipment in and out of a war zone.

Robertson planned to share a portion of profits from a failed 1998-2003 gold-prospecting operation in Liberia with another African dictator, Charles Taylor.

This year Robertson’s dream of opening a Christian theme park alongside the Sea of Galilee fell apart after he said on television that Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s stroke was divine retribution for Israel conceding the Gaza Strip to the Palestinian Authority.

When he met with Chinese Prime Minister Zhu Rongji in 1998, Robertson reportedly warned the Chinese leader that China’s economic development meant it would need moral and spiritual values from religion more than ever.

In his current visit, at invitation of the China Association for International Friendly Contacts, Robertson reiterated that hope.

“My prayer is to see 250 million Chinese accept the Lord,” he said. “There are 1.3 billion Chinese right now, even with the one-child policy the population continues to grow very rapidly. And I believe these people are hungry hearted. Now is the time. If we wait much longer, as I say, they’ll be consumed with materialism. But this can become the largest Christian nation on earth, if the church of Jesus Christ prays and does what it needs to do.”

China does not allow Western missionaries who proselytize, but it does allow religious organizations to do charitable work in compliance with Chinese law. CBN China has been registered with the Chinese government in 1999 as a charitable organization that works to “demonstrate love by alleviating human need and suffering in China.”

CBN also has been featuring a series of Web reports in anticipation of the 2008 Beijing Olympics. A recent report contrasted the success of “American Idol,” with 30 million viewers and 63 million votes cast, with a Chinese version of the show. “Supergirl,” with 400 million viewers and 300 million votes cast, started with an investment of $1.7 million and turned a profit of $185 million.

Bob Allen is managing editor of

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