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Oil and gas will drive future control of the South China Sea

A fisherman works in The South China Sea under the shadow of oil exploration facilities at Seria, September 7, 2004 in Brunei.

Image of Asia's Cauldron: The South China Sea and the End of a Stable Pacific
Author: Robert D. Kaplan
Publisher: Random House (2014)
Binding: Hardcover, 256 pages

The global geopolitical conversation this week is focused on Europe and Ukraine and what the G7 is going do about Russia.

However, eventually and probably sooner rather than later, the conversation is going to turn back to Asia. President Obama's got a trip scheduled to the region next month, and somewhere in his conversations with leaders there the South China Sea is going to come up; who gets to control it and who gets the oil and natural gas reserves that are under the ocean floor.

In his new book “Asia's Cauldron: The South China Sea and The End of a Stable Pacific”, Robert Kaplan breaks down how a possible dispute over the South China Sea could have a substantial impact.

Kaplan notes that the South China Sea is said to have oil reserves of seven billion barrels and over 900 cubic feet of natural gas. This makes it very attractive to countries in the region. Kaplan said the biggest competitor for control of the South China Sea is China. 

“The Chinese themselves claim what’s called the nine dash line or the whole heart of the sea itself” said Kaplan. “China sees the South China Sea, the way the United States saw the Caribbean in the 19th and early 20th century; as the blue water extension of its continental landmass that it must dominate”.

Kaplan said the possible dispute over who owns the South China Sea could have a staunching economic impact.

“If the pacific is no longer stable, that will affect investment, growth rates, etc.” said Kaplan. “If you ask me what’s the biggest question in the world today; it’s not ‘Will Iran get its Nukes?’ it’s the direction of the Chinese economy.”

China claims that the South China Sea will produce 130 million barrels of oil.  Kaplan said that if this calculation is correct, the South China Sea is only second to Saudi Arabia in terms of how much oil it has.

About the author

Kai Ryssdal is the host and senior editor of Marketplace, public radio’s program on business and the economy.
Image of Asia's Cauldron: The South China Sea and the End of a Stable Pacific
Author: Robert D. Kaplan
Publisher: Random House (2014)
Binding: Hardcover, 256 pages

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