Four Power Politics: Implications for South East Asia or How Geography Influences Competition among Nations Jan Kofron


It is widely accepted that the geopolitical center of gravity has recently shifted from Europe to (South) East Asia. This region has displayed profound economic growth and it is a region with potential for power competition among nations. it is possible to say that the region has two potential sources of clashes. Firstly, there is potential for intra-regional clashes among ever-strengthening and ambitious China and regional minor powers. secondly, there is potential for extra-regional competition between China and the USA-the lone super-power of post-bipolar politics. Logically, this region attracts the attention of those interested in current geopolitics.

Various studies have emerged dealing with the prospect of regional peace and of China’s ambitions and possible great-power competition among the USA and China (see Beckley 2012, Mearhsiemer 2011,

Friedberg 2005 etc.). This chapter seeks to analyze the situation in this region through the lens of geopolitical reasoning. However, this paper does not use the (currently extremely popular) perspective of critical geopolitics (see O'Toal 1999); on the contrary, it employs a neo-classical approach. The basic theoretical background stems from the offensive neorealism of John Mearsheimer (2001). In addition, it seeks to systematically investigate the role of geographical configuration as a factor in potential power competition. The main impact of geography is seen in its ability to influence military operations and consequently to influence credibility of threats, alliance commitments, etc.

This chapter tries to provide a response to three questions. How does geography influence dynamics of power politics in (South) East Asia (SEA)? Is it possible to create an effective counter-hegemonic balancing coalition in the region without the military commitment of the USA? Finally, what are the prospects for small powers in the region - specifically Taiwan?

The article proceeds in four steps. Firstly, I discuss the basic theoretical tenets employed in this paper and elaborate on the significance of (physical) geography and its configuration in military operations. In the second step I describe the current regional setting within South East Asia and the regional geographical configuration. The third part deals with the implications of the combination of a regional balance of power and its geographical configuration. The final part attempts to provide specific implications for the future of an independent Taiwan.

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