Maps and the South China Sea

With the possible exception of Ukraine, there is perhaps no place in the world today so likely to see a localized conflict expand into a global war as the South China Sea. Business Insider has recently published a collection of maps that seek to explain tensions in the area. The maps themselves were originally produced by the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative, which has done an important service by documenting the economic, political and geographic issues that are shaping geopolitical tensions throughout the region. Therese Delpeche, who sadly passed away in 2012, argued in her important book, Savage Century: Back to Barbarism, that the political situation in Asia now resembles that in Europe in 1914. This idea was not new, and has been controversial within Political Science, but after reading her work it is difficult not to see historical parallels. For anyone who wonders why these ocean waters have engaged so many different nations, these nineteen maps explain what is at stake. The maps would also be a great teaching tool in an “Introduction to International and Global Studies” class.

For a critical look at U.S. policy in the region, and its implications for Australia, please see my review of Michael Fraser’s Dangerous Allies. For a broader look at the issue, please see my book review of Robert Kaplan’s work, Asia’s Cauldron.

Shawn Smallman, Portland State University

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