Asia's Cauldron: The South China Sea and the End of a Stable Pacific by Robert D. Kaplan

First off, this book has wonderful cover art. I got the hardcover version, and although this book is slim, it packs a punch. It also has two very detailed maps of the South China Sea (SCS) region in the beginning of the book that shows the competing claims by all countries.

The book begins with an overview of the region and the current situation. Many nations are flexing their muscles to (re)gain control of ‘islands’ in the SCS. Some of these islands are very tiny and even covered by water most of the time. The countries in the region, Vietnam, China, Malaysia, Singapore and the Philippines, want control of these islands because of the possibility of oil and gas hidden in the sea floor. Along with oil and gas, the fishing rights around these islands is very important.

In every chapter, Kaplan analyzes the political situation in every country. He gives a good overview of each country’s history to give context to the current conflict in the SCS. He pulls in lots of quotes from other books and from government officials to flesh out the story. Kaplan is very good at stitching together a very compelling narrative and makes politics an exciting thing to read about.

Malaysia: I wasn’t very aware of the history of Malaysia so this chapter was very interesting to me although this chapter seemed a bit light on details compared to the subsequent chapter on Singapore.

Singapore: This was an excellent, very clearly laid out chapter. This is another nation I know very little about, but he gives a good history lesson on Singapore. He also talks a lot about their very important leader Lee Kuan Yew and his philosophy of leadership.

Philippines: I didn’t realize how weak the Filipino army is before reading this. It looks like it won’t be a major player in this confrontation except as a proxy for America, the Philipines being an ally of USA.

Taiwan: Balanced reporting on Taiwan although I disliked him using the term mainland China. Taiwan is not a big player in the SCS game. It’s mostly jockeying with China for a few islands that are equidistant from China and Taiwan.

China: Lays out some scenarios of possibility for the future.

Throughout all of the book it the USA is mentioned as a balancing force in the SCS to keep China from getting too comfortable.

If you’re interested in Asia, and the analysis of military strategy, you shall enjoy this! The South China Sea has become one of the most important places in the world because a rising China is getting involved and flexing it’s muscle.

Rating: ★★★★

Book #51 in my My 2019 Reading Challenge

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