Oprah time: The South China Sea: The Struggle for Power in Asia by Bill Hayton

Hayton sets an ambitious goal for himself to try and unpick the claims and counter claims on territory in the South China sea. It is a massive convoluted story that encompasses colonial powers, oil companies and a plethora of Asian countries.

In the end no one comes out of it with glowing colours. China is easy to paint as a villain and it has played to type. But other countries and major powers have made constant mis-steps and it has become an intractable problem. The more hawkish may see the inevitability of war with China.

On the Chinese side, it makes sense for them to escalate a fight with one of their neighbours; as a Chinese idiom puts it ‘kill a chicken to scare the monkey’ and distract from the pain of change at home.  The history is wrapped up with rising nationalism and aspirations of China and its neighbours.

From the American perspective, it makes sense to have the war with China further away from the Homeland, so the South China sea rather than the Pacific ocean.

Hayton doesn’t take a standpoint one way or the other leaving the reader to decide.

From a reading perspective, the tangled nature of the claims makes the book more difficult to read in small bursts. I tried reading it as a commuting book and it took a while to get it done.

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