High stakes in Asian waters

Cover of Asian WatersAsian Waters: The Struggle Over the Asia-Pacific and the Strategy of Chinese Expansion
by Humphrey Hawksley
Gerald Duckworth & Co, £20

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Most experts agree that, whatever international crises currently dominate the headlines, the area with the greatest long-term potential for conflict is the South China Sea. China’s policy of occupying obscure islands to claim their surrounding waters means it is now embroiled in maritime disputes with several countries. The stakes are high, since the winner could end up with effective control of one of the world’s major trading routes.

Asian Waters, written by a long-serving foreign correspondent for the BBC, looks at this struggle for supremacy from the perspective of the major powers of America, China and Japan, as well as several other nations in the region. All face their own challenges based on the need to balance geopolitical goals while ensuring that their economy isn’t wrecked by any conflict.

Hawksley doesn’t provide any answers to the question of whether China’s rise should be resisted or accommodated. But he offers a captivating account of the big changes taking place in the global political system – and makes a convincing case that the Westphalian system based on markets, the rule of law and the promotion of democratic norms, is being gradually replaced by what he calls an “Eastphalian” arrangement negotiated by China at the point of a gun.