The Geopolitical Pull of the South China Sea; the 21st Century May See the Rise of a New 'Demographic Heartland'

By Merry, Robert W. | The Washington Times (Washington, DC), April 3, 2014 | Go to article overview

The Geopolitical Pull of the South China Sea; the 21st Century May See the Rise of a New 'Demographic Heartland'


Merry, Robert W., The Washington Times (Washington, DC)


Byline: Robert W. Merry

Robert D. Kaplan first gained national recognition nearly 25 years ago with publication of his third book, "Balkan Ghosts," part history and part travelogue, which explored the social, political and cultural complexities of the Balkans, just as that region was about to descend into Europe's worst spree of violence since World War II.

It was said that Mr. Kaplan was so compelling in his description of the hopeless hatreds of the old Yugoslavia that President Clinton, upon reading the book, resolved to stay out of the region.

"Balkan Ghosts" was noteworthy for its evenhanded treatment of the Serbs, and Mr. Kaplan's effort to convey to readers the historical, cultural and geopolitical factors that drove Serbian aims and fears as regional stability disintegrated. It didn't take, for as events unfolded and Serbian atrocities became known, the West embraced a regional narrative that cast the Serbs as villains in the drama.

Mr. Clinton eventually embraced that narrative, as attested by his 78-day bombing campaign against Serbia aimed at ripping the Serbs' ancestral lands in Kosovo, now majority Albanian Muslim, out of the hands of Serbia. Throughout that drama, Mr. Kaplan's book offered a compelling historical framework for tragic current events.

Now, 12 books later, Mr. Kaplan is out with "Asia's Cauldron: The South China Sea and the End of a Stable Pacific." Like "Balkan Ghosts," the latest book is the product of considerable historical analysis tied to journalistic observations emanating from extensive travels through the region.

It is a region, writes Mr. Kaplan, that will assume huge import in coming decades in geopolitical and demographic terms. It will also spawn some of the world's most intense geopolitical maneuvering.

To understand the significance of the South China Sea, we must elevate ourselves and look at a bigger map of the surrounding maritime territory. By 2050, Mr. Kaplan tells us, nearly 7 billion of the world's 9 billion people will live generally in East Asia, Southeast Asia, South Asia, the Middle East, and East Africa. This constitutes a "global demographic heartland," with its central organizing principle being the Greater Indian Ocean, along with the Western Pacific.

This map unites by sea what the noted British geopolitical scholar Halford Mckinder called the globe's "Eurasian Heartland," the world's most significant strategic territory. Mr. Kaplan sees this greater region as stretching from the Horn of Africa across the Indian Ocean, bending around Indonesia, then up to the Sea of Japan.

The outer points in this map are South Asia, Japan and Australia. But, says Mr. Kaplan, "the countries of the South China Sea constitute the inner points, or strategic core of it. The South China Sea is the Mitteleuropa of the twenty-first century.''

This has an ominous ring to it. …

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