Author(s): Humphrey Hawksley
Few territories are as hotly contested as the western Pacific Ocean. Across the 1.5 million square mile expanse of the East and South China Sea, six countries lay overlapping claims that date back centuries. China, Vietnam, Korea and Indonesia assert their right to trade routes, deploying military garrisons to defend disputed territories while Japan, Vietnam and the Philippines resist their expansion. But no single government can face a superpower such as China alone, and as the country extends its reach, less powerful states look to the United States for diplomatic mediation, creating an American security umbrella that stretches across the Asia-Pacific, nicknamed the 'American Lake'. These conditions produce an unstable cocktail of competing interests and international tensions poised for conflict.