The South China Sea: The Struggle for Power in Asia

By Phar Kim Beng
Strategic Pan Indo-Pacific Arena
Twitter: @indo_pan

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“South China Sea: The Struggle for Power in Asia,” as written by Bill Hayton, has got everything right, except, the fluid nature of the issue.

The South China Sea is often seen through the prism of a conflict, or, even a potential war involving China and the United States. But China, time and again, has proposed joint development too; a practice not alien to the manner by which Thailand and Malaysia jointly exploited the oil in the Gulf of Thailand. Thus, while Bill Hayton has written a historically solid, and well-grounded book, he did not delve deeply into the issue of “what if” ? To do so, would be counter-factual. History deals with facts, not what if.

But the South China Sea is a fluid issue, as is China’s very own territorial integrity. Over the centuries, dynasties have come and gone. The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has barely governed China for close to a century; although 2021 would be CCP’s centennial. While the tentacles of its power are pervasive, no one knows if the CCP can be an indelible feature in China forever; which in turn begets the fluid nature of South China Sea. Come what may, this is an excellent book, and showcases an superb mastery of the historical sources, contemporary research and theories of international relations.

What Bill Hayton can further do is to expound on the concept of Indo-Pacific. The Indian Ocean has been deemed by the Association of Southeast Asia Nations (ASEAN) as one contiguous maritime basin.

Japan has its own concept of Free and Open Indo-Pacific (FOIP). France, with former colonies in Indian Ocean, has its own Indo-Pacific Strategy too; as is Australia. The United States has come up with an Indo-Pacific Strategy as.well since May 31 2019. New Zealand, while smaller in size to all the above countries, may yet have its own Indo-Pacific Strategy. If more emphasis was added on Indo-Pacific Strategy of various great powers, the future of Southeast Asia does portend a contentious scenario.

Indeed, the Belt and Road Initiative, is perhaps China’s own expression of its own Indo-Pacific Strategy too. Come what may, Bill Hayton’s scholarship on South China Sea is admirable and a formidable feat in scrupulous scholarship. This book is a must have for those keen on the broad trends and minutiae of South China Sea.



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