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Asia's Cauldron: The South China Sea and the End of a Stable Pacific Hardcover – March 25, 2014

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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

Foreign affairs scholar Kaplan considers the geopolitics of the South China Sea and makes a compelling argument that the strategically important body of water is likely to become the “Mitteleuropa of the twenty-first century,” a flashpoint for future regional power struggles with serious international consequences. There are several reasons for this: a broad shift away from land wars in favor of less overt maritime territorial claims, China’s patient but unrelenting military buildup, the sheer volume of tonnage passing through the South China Sea, and diminishing American budgets and appetite for global naval hegemony. Though much of the groundwork for his thesis was laid in Monsoon (2010), his book on the Indian Ocean, here Kaplan pays particular attention to Vietnam (the region’s emergent power), Malaysia (its success story), the Philippines (its failed state), and Taiwan (its “Berlin”). In support of some of his conclusions, he offers statistics and the logic of realpolitik; for others, travel-diary anecdotes or historical, even classical, analogy. The result is a riveting, multitextured look at an underexamined region of the world and, perhaps, at the “anxious, complicated world” of the future. --Brendan Driscoll


“This is the latest in a series of insightful books . . . in which Robert D. Kaplan . . . tries to explain how geography determines destiny—and what we should be doing about it. Asia’s Cauldron is a short book with a powerful thesis, and it stands out for its clarity and good sense from the great mass of Western writing on what Chinese politicians have taken to calling their ‘peaceful development.’ If you are doing business in China, traveling in Southeast Asia or just obsessing about geopolitics, you will want to read it. . . . Throughout the book, Kaplan tempers hard-nose geopolitics with an engaging mix of history and travelogue.”The New York Times Book Review
“Kaplan has established himself as one of our most consequential geopolitical thinkers. . . . [Asia’s Cauldron] is part treatise on geopolitics, part travel narrative. Indeed, he writes in the tradition of the great travel writers.”The Weekly Standard
“Kaplan’s fascinating book is a welcome challenge to the pessimists who see only trouble in China’s rise and the hawks who view it as malign.”The Economist
“Muscular, deeply knowledgeable . . . Kaplan is an ultra-realist [who] takes a non-moralistic stance on questions of power and diplomacy.”Financial Times
“A riveting, multitextured look at an underexamined region of the world and, perhaps, at the ‘anxious, complicated world’ of the future.”—Booklist

“Part travelogue, part history, and part geostrategic analysis, Asia’s Cauldron sets some lofty goals for itself and largely succeeds in presenting a holistic look at the competing diplomatic and economic interests of the nations along the South China Sea. . . . This volume is an excellent primer to the conflicting ambitions, fears, and futures of the nations bordering this vital sea-lane, which will remain one of the most dangerous flashpoints of the coming decade.”New York Journal of Books
“In reminding Americans that their age of ‘simple dominance’ must pass, [Kaplan] avoids joining those groping in the dark and almost takes the detached stance of a historian of coming decades, describing how that future Asia came to be. This acceptance of Asia’s complexity and the limits of influence that any outside power has may well be the most valuable lesson.”National Review

Asia’s Cauldron is a perfect summation of the present turbulent moment in history, when the World War II security structure is beginning a rapid transformation. Kaplan engages the striking possibilities of where the current confrontation between China and Japan could lead, and underscores the point that this is a lot more significant than a simple border dispute.”—Paul Bracken, Yale University, author of The Second Nuclear Age
“Master global strategist Robert D. Kaplan turns his gaze to the bubbling heat of the South China Sea in his latest tour de force. Asia’s Cauldron deconstructs the extreme volatility of this enormous, dangerous, and vital maritime space. By thoughtfully pulling apart the complex tangle of argument and accusation among the nations of the region, he helps provide a well-charted course for the United States in this most turbulent geopolitical zone of the twenty-first-century.”Admiral James Stavridis, United States Navy (Ret.), dean of the Fletcher School at Tufts University and Supreme Allied Commander of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, 2009–2013
“Robert D. Kaplan has done it again: he has written an engaging—but disturbing—book about an area of the world that to most Americans is a distant rimland. Yet in an era of emerging Sino-American competition, the larger Southeast Asian region could well become the explosive cynosure of new great-power rivalries. Asia’s Cauldron is a wonderful and captivating guide that illumines the myriad colliding forces that will shape the future of the Indo-Pacific.”—Ashley J. Tellis, senior associate, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Random House; First Edition edition (March 25, 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0812994329
  • ISBN-13: 978-0812994322
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 0.9 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (166 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #79,461 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

80 of 84 people found the following review helpful By Enjolras TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on March 27, 2014
Format: Kindle Edition
The South China Sea is easily becoming the most important foreign policy issue in the Asia-Pacific region. With impeccable timing, Robert Kaplan’s new book, Asia’s Cauldron, attempts to illuminate the main actors in the dispute.

The book seems written for readers with some knowledge of Asia and foreign policy issues. This is both a strength and weakness of the book. The book is very accessible and Kaplan writes clearly enough for readers with only minimal knowledge to step right in. In some ways, the book could serve as an introduction to the countries surrounding the South China Sea. As somebody who teaches about U.S. foreign policy in Asia, I could easily imagine using chapters from this book on my syllabus in future years.

Kaplan provides a compelling chef’s tour of the South China Sea. He has a knack for drawing out the essential political and cultural characteristics of each country without veering into essentialism. I found his chapter on Malaysia – ironically, one of the less consequential disputants in the region – to be particularly insightful in its ability to unpack the potential contradictions in Malaysian modernity and Malay Islam. I found the discussion of each government’s attitude towards military power to be particularly illuminating. Kaplan seems able to obtain honest insights from key policymakers about their country’s relationship with China and the U.S.

On the other hand, the book does not go into sufficient detail for Asia specialists (I am probably in the latter camp) or those who have studied the South China Sea for years. There is surprisingly little discussion about the territorial claims themselves – if anything, the book focuses on the disputants, not the disputes.
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24 of 27 people found the following review helpful By Alastair Browne on April 29, 2014
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
It's ironic that I write this review on the day that the U.S. and the Philippines agrees to a new military alliance, where the U.S. sends rotating troops and navy ships to perform maneuvers and reconnaissance. The U.S. now has similar treaties with Australia and Singapore. I've also been reading recent articles on why the U.S. is making military commitments, to counter China, with Obama stating that "China isn't the focus."
This book explains what this situation is all about, the situation of each country on the South China Sea, and why China is so hostile to all this. Note that China is building up their military, not their army, but their navy, and to a slightly lesser degree, their air force.
The American press pictures China as the hostile power here, but when you look at it, China feels they have a rightful claim to the South China Sea, just as the U.S. has a claim on the Caribbean and the Gulf of Mexico, and Europe having a claim on the Mediterranean, except that the U.S. does not violate the territorial waters off of other countries in the Gulf or the Caribbean.
With China now being a major economic power, and they do do business with India, Africa, and the Middle East,the South China Sea provides major passage between the Pacific and Indian Oceans, and, like the United States, China intends to become a two ocean country. This sea also has a lot of valuable natural resources, starting with oil and natural gas, not to mention rich fishing grounds, and China is going to want all that wealth. With a population of 1.3 billion people, they are going to need it.
Another little known fact is that China does not go by the Law of the Sea treaty, with a claim 200 miles of the continental shelf off its coast only, with all other international borders respected.
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15 of 16 people found the following review helpful By jem on April 30, 2014
Format: Hardcover
Kaplan writes for readers interested in issues that may influence US foreign policy years, or even decades into the future. He introduces us to developing nations surrounding the South China Sea and their relationship with their dominant neighbor, China.

Admittedly, the South China Sea is not on the radar of most Americans who might even have difficulty pinpointing it on a world map.. He contends with convincing evidence that it is a naval crossroads as significant to the 21st century as the dominance of the greater Caribbean was to America's evolution as a world power or the Mediterranean was to Europe and the Middle East.

His extensive research and personal experience in these countries offers surprising portraits of countries from Vietnam to Phillipines. His rational, even-handed analysis of expanding Chinese military expenditures and territorial claims provides challenging food for thought. His dramatic contrast between the setting for conferring with worldly Chinese academics who send their children to college in the US and Communist leaders reiterating geography of the Middle Kingdom compresses into a paragraph what others require entire books to convey. We may read in the news about the Obama administration's pivot to Asia, but it is Kaplan who explains the situation that creates the need for more US focus on the Pacific.

This is a thought provoking book that depending on your experience will be very enlightening or challenge your Asian perspective. I highly recommend it.
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