Thursday, September 08, 2011

South China Sea as the emerging center of gravity?

In a recent article in Foreign Policy Magazine (Sept/Oct, 2011) Robert D. Kaplan has argued that the Western Pacific is becoming the world’s new center of naval activity, specifically the South China Sea. Here are some of the assertions in the article:
• East Asia is the center of global manufacturing.
• More than half the world’s merchant fleet tonnage passes through the choke points leading westward from the South China Sea to the Indian Ocean
• A third of all maritime traffic passes through these choke points.
• Oil from the Indian Ocean passes through the strait of Malacca is more than six times the amount passing through Suez and seventeen times that through Panama Canal.
• About two thirds of Koreas energy supplies pass through the South China Sea; and 60% of Japans; 60% of Taiwan’s; 80% of China’s crude oil imports come through that choke point.
• South China Sea has 7 billion barrels of proven oil reserves and an estimated 900 trillion cubic feet of natural gas.
• All the nine states that touch the South China Sea are necessarily arrayed against China and therefore inclined to US.
• Energy consumption in Asia will double by 2030.
• South China Sea has become an “armed camp”: China has claimed 12 geographic features; Taiwan one; Vitname 25; Philippines 8; Malaysia 5.
• Defense budgets of Southeast Asian states have increased over the last decade while they have declined in the west: Since 2000 Indonesia has increased 84%, Singapore up 146%; Malaysia up 722%.
• Vietnam has spent 2 billion on Russian submarines and 1 Billion on jet planes.
• Military power has shifted from Europe to Asia “quietly”.
All this makes us wonder: How perceptive are we of the changes taking place in our time? It’s not easy to track shifts in power relationships, taking “power” here to mean military power, and even possibly industrial power. I don’t know Kaplan is right but I do take note of the some of the specific details he musters to develop his point: Shifts in leverage and military capability matter – especially in the long run.

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