Asian Waters

Asian Waters
The Struggle Over the South China Sea and the Strategy of Chinese Expansion
Humphrey Hawksley
Price: £
  • Hardback
28 Jun 2018
  • History
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The first book to explain the politics and tensions of countries in the South China Sea.

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 US 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.  

BBC foreign correspondent Humphrey Hawksley has been following this increasingly precarious situation in East Asia for decades. Reporting on years of political developments, he has witnessed China’s rise to become one of the world’s most powerful trade entities, elbowing smaller markets out in the process.

In Asian Waters, Hawksley draws on his experience as a veteran journalist to portray the region in all its complexity and delivers a compelling account of where it is heading. Will China continue to rise to power peacefully or will its ambition prompt a new world war? Will Japan, the Philippines, South Korea, and Taiwan create a multi-lateral alliance similar to NATO to pre-empt further encroachment? Asian Waters delves into these topics and more as Hawksley presents the most comprehensive analysis of the region to date.  


‘A vivid and highly readable guide to one of the great flash points of the 21st century’ Gideon Rachman, Chief Foreign Affairs Commentator, Financial Times

‘Hawksley has the reporter’s eye for human stories and key detail, the writer’s ability to weave them into a conceptual narrative, and the analyst’s expertise in putting it all into context. It makes for an enthralling read and is essential for those grappling with the big picture politics of the 21st century’s key geopolitical space’ Tim Marshall, Sunday Times bestselling author of Prisoners of Geography

‘Astonishing… explores the changing face of China [where] islands are being built, little rocks argued over and sabres rattled… [Asian Waters] offers a way forward’ Emma Nelson, Monocle Daily FM

‘A captivating account of the big changes taking place in the global political system’ Moneyweek

‘A fine new book… as [America’s] technological edge erodes and its alliance system comes under challenge it will have to sit down with China and try to build a more equitable international order. This is the most important message of Hawksley’s book’ The Literary Review

‘For any reader hoping to navigate those troubled waters, or seeking a broad overview of the geopolitical fault lines in Asia, Hawksley’s book provides an excellent guide’

‘Hawksley has a knack for delivering pointed arguments and parallels amid a concise array of key historical events’ Yale Global

‘This breezily written book, packing decades of reporting, interviews and analysis by an astute observer of the region, is essential reading’ Global Asia

‘More than just an in-depth and comprehensive analysis of the region awaits the reader’ UPI

‘Hawksley explores the intricacies of the dilemma for Vietnam, Indonesia, the Philippines, and other nations in the region as Chinese expansionism runs up against the U.S. security umbrella in a contest that will shape the twenty-first century’ The Centre for Strategic and International Studies

‘A readable and very well-informed guide to an area of real tension in the early decades of this century’ Baron Lord Patten of Barnesthe last governor of Hong Kong, Chancellor of Oxford University

‘Day by day the inherent tension between Chinese strategic ambition, American desire to rule the waves, Asian neighbours' territorial claims and the panoply of international law and conventions moves closer to snapping point. The South China Sea is the place where the legacies of the 20th century come smack into confrontation with the new realities of the 21st. Asian Waters deserves to be widely read and debated, all over the world’ Bill Emmott, former editor of the Economist and author of The Rivals: How the Power Struggle between China, India and Japan Will Shape Our Next Decade

‘With his solid, on-the-ground experience and incisive analysis derived from decades of first rate reportage, Humphrey Hawksley provides new ways of seeing and understanding the shifting balance of world power, a change of monumental significance for this century. Asian Waters seamlessly connects geography, history and great power intrigue across the entire Indo-Pacific region, increasingly the fulcrum of world history. His conclusions are surprising and often disturbing, but always based on the evidence. This book is a must-read.’ James Clad, Director, Asian Security Programs at the American Foreign Policy Council, Former US deputy assistant secretary of defence for Asia Pacific Security Affairs

'Humphrey's writing style is accessible even when his subject grows more complex, ranging from geographic diversity to narration about history and politics. This book is a helpful primer to better understand the tools available to those formulating the South China Sea Policy. Whether it is navigating on the political waves in East Asia, or exploring the great power status, the book offers a generous insight. Humphrey is a respected analyst, and he doesn't disappoint here’ Dr Wu Shicun, senior Chinese official for the South China Sea at the National Institute for South China Sea Studies

'Humphrey Hawksley demonstrated through Asian Waters why the Indo-Pacific is a strategic waterway given tense India-China relations, especially after Doklam and more recently, Maldives. Asian Waters plays a critical role in defining India's importance in the evolving geo-strategic matrix. The author is an old India hand and Asian Waters contains a wealth of knowledge, skilfully portrayed in his thoughtful book. To understand the new Indo-Pacific region, Asian Waters is a must read.' Major General Ashok K Mehta, Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, India

‘Humphrey Hawksley spent decades in Asia’s many trouble spots.  In  Asian Waters’, he now focuses  his immense skills at forensic political analysis to dissect  21st century Asia’s  latest trouble spot,  the South China Sea where a rising and increasingly assertive China questions the international order based on the rule of law.  A fascinating read' Hardeep Puri, Indian Minister for Development and former Indian ambassador to the United Nations    

'Humphrey Hawksley has long and rich experience of life in Asia, and has used this to inform this lucid, lively account of the frontier if Chinese aspirations - the region in which it sits. It is here that the true face of Chinese power is being revealed - the waters of Asia. There are fewer better guides to this than Mr Hawksley.’ Kerry Brown, Director Lau China Institute, Kings College, London , author  China’s World: What Does China Want? and CEO, China: The Rise of Xi Jinping

'Hawksley masterfully pulls back the layers of history, old maps, and national pride that form the backdrop to one of Asia's most dangerous flash points, the South China Sea. He argues convincingly that these disputed waters have become a litmus test of how far a rising China can push the boundaries of international law and still get away with it. Hawksley concludes with insightful suggestions about how China and the United States might learn to live together and what the disastrous stakes are for the globe if they clash.' Murray Hiebert, South East Asia Program, Center for Strategic and International Studies

‘A timely, detailed and balanced examination of one of the crucial geo-political fault-lines of the twenty-first century. Its insights and analysis accurately map the complexity of the situation in the Asia-Pacific region, the choices open to policy-makers and a range of outcomes that could lead to cooperation, confrontation or conflict’ Admiral Chris Parry CBE, (Rtd.), author  Super Highway: Sea Power in the 21st Century

'Very timely... very readable and incisive... a sure footed and compelling analysis' Reaction

Humphrey Hawksley

About Humphrey Hawksley

Humphrey Hawksley is a BBC foreign correspondent. He is the author of numerous titles including Democracy Kills: What's So Good About the Vote. He has lectured at universities including Cambridge, UCL and London Business School and is a regular speaker and panellist at Intelligence Squared and the Royal Geographical Society. He has moderated at many literary festivals and written for numerous publications including the Guardian, The Times, Financial Times, International New York Times, etc. Find out more at