Is US dominance in Asia ending? Are the declinists right? Going into the next century China is well-positioned in its own neighborhood to “Finlandize” Southeast Asia, according to the steeley-eyed strategist, Robert D. Kaplan.
It is realism that keeps Kaplan’s book so refreshingly free of the breathless “oh my God it’s worse than you think” prose style that mars so much Western writing on the rise of China. In its place, however, realism encourages a Thucydidean detachment that some readers will find even more alarming. But that, Kaplan says, is the way it has to be, because the struggle over the South China Sea is going to be detached and unemotional. America’s struggle with the Soviet Union raised great moral issues and fired the passions of all involved; but it has proved hard to invest the South China Sea with the same philosophical freight as the Berlin Wall, despite the best efforts of some. (While writing a column for a newspaper — not this one — a few months ago, I was firmly informed that the editor wanted “less history, more scary stuff about China.”) “The fact is,” Kaplan observes, “East Asia is all about trade and business.”
Naval power is the national focus across Asia as “the center of military power” moves to this region. Looking into this major global change in power is helpfully served up in a “non-moralistic stance on quesitons of power and diplomacy“–and that is what makes this book worth reading.