The Future of History
Can Liberal Democracy Survive the Decline of the Middle Class?
Time to Attack Iran
Why a Strike Is the Least Bad Option
Clear and Present Safety
The United States Is More Secure Than Washington Thinks
The Iraq We Left Behind
Welcome to the World’s Next Failed State
Campaign Tips From Cicero
The Art of Politics, From the Tiber to the Potomac
Why Iran Should Get the Bomb
Nuclear Balancing Would Mean Stability
Environmental Alarmism, Then and Now
The Club of Rome’s Problem—and Ours
The Crisis of Europe
How the Union Came Together and Why It’s Falling Apart
How China Sees America
The Sum of Beijing’s Fears
Why the Rest Stopped Rising
Al Qaeda in Iran
Why Tehran is Accommodating the Terrorist Group
What Happens After Israel Attacks Iran
Public Debate Can Prevent a Strategic Disaster
Game of Thrones as Theory
It’s Not as Realist as It Seems—And That’s Good
Hacks of Valor
Why Anonymous Is Not a Threat to National Security
Putin's Gazprom Problem
How the Kremlin Accidentally Liberalized Russia's Natural Gas Market
Europe's New Normal
It's Here, It's Unclear, Get Used to It
Why Women Turn to the FARC -- and How the FARC Turns on Them
Buddhists Behaving Badly
What Zealotry is Doing to Sri Lanka
Island Grabbing in Asia
Why the South China Seas are So Tense
Preventing Politics in Egypt
Why Liberals Oppose the Constitution
A Map of Conflicts in the South China Sea (Sam Pepple / Sample Cartography). Click to enlarge.
Last month, Japanese activists planted their country's flag on one of the Senkaku Islands (which the Chinese call the Diaoyu Islands), a chain claimed by China, Japan, and Taiwan. The move sparked protests in China and inspired headlines in the West, but the provocation was hardly surprising. The three bodies of water in East Asia -- the Sea of Japan (bounded by Japan, North Korea, South Korea, and Russia), the East China Sea (bordered by China and Japan's Ryukyu Islands), and the South China Sea (surrounded by Borneo, China, the Philippines, and Vietnam) -- are home to hundreds of disputed islands, atolls, and shoals. And in the last few years, the diplomatic and militaristic struggles to assert authority have become increasingly brazen.
On one level, patriotism is making things worse. Japan's tussle with China over the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands, for example, is a touchstone for those in Japan who fear China's growing political and economic might. Likewise, South Korea's assertion of control over the Dokdo Islands (known as the Takeshima Islands in Japan) is viewed at home as a patriotic riposte to Japan's 40-year occupation of the peninsula.
Beyond symbolism, however, these three bodies of water flow over East Asia's Outer Continental Shelf and the submerged deltas of many major river systems -- geological features that suggest the presence of vast deposits of oil and natural gas. Yet, although the resources have been there for millennia, it is only in the last decade that the energy sector has even started to develop extractive technologies that will eventually make these reserves accessible.
Nobody wants to lose out, especially because East Asia is energy hungry. The region is home to only three percent of the world's proven oil reserves and eight percent of its natural gas reserves. China, for example, already imports 58 percent of the oil and 22 percent of the gas it uses each year. Japan is
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