Conf. univ. dr. Vasile NAZARE
Abstract: At the beginning of the XXI century, we can determine a dominance shift within international relations, from North Atlantic towards Asia – Pacific; if the post-war century has been an American one, belonging to the Atlantic, to the West from both shores, the XXI century seems to become an Asian one, a new time for the Pacific.
In 2011, Hillary Clinton, Secretary of State in the Obama administration, claimed, in an article published by Foreign Policy, that the next world economic center will be the Asia – Pacific region and that, of course, USA are very well placed in this matter and will be able to maintain global supremacy.
Since then, new actors have entered the arena affecting international relations from political, economic, military, geopolitical, geostrategic and cultural point of views: Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia, Vietnam, Singapore, South Korea, Brunei, but most and foremost China, India and Japan.
A study conducted by Asian Development Bank in 2011 confirms the prophecy: a) by the end of 2050, the GDP of Asian countries will represent 50% of the world’s GDP; b) even more, only 7 states, China, India, Japan, Indonesia, Thailand, Malaysia and South Korea, will make for 45% of it; c) Europe and US, together, are supposed to have a margin of only 15%; d) economically speaking, Asian countries will outperform Western states; e) due to its position, the Indo-Pacific region becomes the most important strategic area of the XXI century; f) it also includes one of the most valuable maritime routes, the one that connects Indian Ocean with the Pacific, through the South China Sea, Malacca and Taiwan straits; yearly, it facilitates transit for commerce of about 5.3 trillion dollars; g) a half of world’s fleet weight and a third of its maritime traffic navigates through Malacca, Sunda, Lombok towards South China Sea (”The Second Persian Sea”); its energetic transit, 17 million barrels/day, is over 7 times as much as the one through Suez (2 million barrels/day) and 17 times more that the Panama route (800,000 barrels/day); it holds two thirds of the global LNG transport; h) it provides jobs for the 500 million people living in the neighboring states, people trained in different fields: oil and gas exploitation, navy, fishing, commerce; i) it holds significant oil (5-22 trillion barrels) and gas reserves (70-290 trillion cubical meters; the region being referred to as a ”New Persian Gulf”), not to mention the fishing capabilities; j) Malacca has become the most important commercial and energetic route: in 2004, 94,000 ships have passed through the aforementioned straits; k) 6 trillion LNG have transited Malacca towards Japan (56%), South Korea (24%), China (19%) and Taiwan.
At the core of the Indo-Pacific region, there is the South China Sea; positioned at the crossroads of some powerful trade routes, this sea has become the main geopolitical world scene, the key to controlling the region, the entire Eastern hemisphere, of hegemonic power status, a source of permanent conflict, as Robert D. Kaplan noted in The Revenge of Geography.
The region’s geopolitical and geostrategic importance, China’s claims over 80% of South China Sea surface, the territorial disputes between China and its neighboring countries (Indonesia, Vietnam, Malaysia, Thailand, Cambodia, Brunei, Philippines), all these aspects amplify the competition between China and USA in order to gain control over the South China Sea and stop the militarization and expansion tendencies of China, given the need to respect the sovereignty of all states involved.