Read Robert Kaplan's take that the South China Sea is the future of conflict.
Rival countries have bickered over territory in the South China Sea for centuries, but a recent upsurge in tension has sparked concern that the area is becoming a major global flashpoint. In years past, the disputes have concerned historical issues of territory and sovereignty, but today global trade routes and new estimates of the area's natural resource potential have only added to the South China Sea's geostrategic importance. As Robert D. Kaplan explains, "More than half the world's annual merchant fleet tonnage passes through [the straits of Malacca, Sunda, Lombok, and Makassar], and a third of all maritime traffic. The oil transported through the Strait of Malacca from the Indian Ocean, en route to East Asia through the South China Sea, is more than six times the amount that passes through the Suez Canal and 17 times the amount that transits the Panama Canal.... What's more, the South China Sea has proven oil reserves of 7 billion barrels and an estimated 900 trillion cubic feet of natural gas." And with Asia's spiraling energy demands -- energy consumption is expected to double by 2030, with China accounting for half that growth -- the South China Sea will be ever more central in fueling the region's economic strength.
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