THE FOUR FLASH POINTS: How Asia Goes to War.

AuthorBelgrave, David
PositionBook review


Author: Brenda Taylor

Published by: La Trobe University Press, Melbourne, 2018, 256pp, AS29.99.

Asia's massive economic growth over the last three decades has started to significantly reshape the power dynamics of the region. Despite this spectacular growth in wealth and well-being, long existing tensions between major powers have not been resolved. If anything, economic growth has raised the stakes and possibility of war as China has chipped away at the military dominance of the United States in the Western Pacific. Canberra-based New Zealander Brendan Taylor's new book The Four Flash Points: How Asia Goes to War outlines places where war is most likely to break out in Asia today.

All four flash points explored in the book--the East China Sea, the Korean peninsula, the South China Sea and Taiwan--are disputes that could bring China and the United States into direct conflict with one another. All four have been long running problems that have, up until now, been 'tempered' by the dominance of the US Navy in the region. American dominance has allowed for peace and economic development as no other state was willing or able to challenge that dominance. China's newfound prosperity is allowing Beijing to challenge American dominance and steadily increase the cost of a conventional war with China in terms of American blood or treasure.

Taylor lays out the likelihood that each flashpoint could cause war. Contrary to common perception, he does not consider the South China Sea to be the most likely cause of armed conflict. Taiwan and the Korean peninsula are considered much more dangerous flashpoints than the South or East China seas. That is not to say serious crises are unlikely to occur in these places, but that war is less likely to result from those crises. We are reminded that maritime crises tend to be much slower moving than land-based ones. There is more time for diplomacy to cool a crisis from a miscalculation at sea than there is when a mistake is made on land. The disputes over the South and East China seas are not about populated areas. States are unlikely to risk a major war over largely uninhabited rocks and small artificial islands.

It is where significant populated territories are at stake that war is much more likely to break out. Taylor identifies Beijing's claim to the island of Taiwan as the riskiest flashpoint. Bringing Taiwan into the People's Republic has been a dream of Beijing's...

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