The Four Flash Points
How Asia Goes to War
Black Inc Books 2018
Paperback 256pp RRP $29.99
Reviewer: Bruce Brown, February 2020
Since the 2016 US election security and economic relations between states in the Asia-Pacific region have been dominated by the unorthodox behaviour of President Donald Trump. His meetings with North Korea’s Kim Jong-un, for example, morphed into reality TV events with little analysis of the historical forces and competing interests shaping the tensions on the Korean Peninsula.
In this context Brendan Taylor has produced an illuminating and readable study of ‘Four Flashpoints’ in Asia – geographic areas which have the potential ‘to erupt suddenly into violent conflict’. He identifies the Korean Peninsula, the East China Sea, the South China Sea and Taiwan as having such potential. His underlying concept is that of ‘crisis slide’ whereby the weight of past conflicts and unforeseen incidents have the potential to lead to massive conflict as had happened in the years leading to World War I. Throughout the book other analogies between current issues and past crises are discussed.
At the outset Taylor acknowledges both the interconnected as well as the distinctive features of the Flashpoints. The interconnections derive from Japan’s defeat in World War II and the US led security order established at the 1951 San Francisco conference. The Korean Peninsula, for example, had been a Japanese colony from 1910 to 1945 before being divided at the 38th parallel with a US-backed government in the South and a Soviet-backed government in the North. Significantly, neither China or Taiwan attended the San Francisco conference which meant that their claims to former Japanese controlled territories would be contested decades later. The distinctive features of each flashpoint derive from longer term factors and the rival claims of China, Taiwan and Japan.
Having succinctly outlined the origins and contemporary state of each of the designated flash points, Taylor explores the competing interests in each flashpoint and explores their implications for the future geopolitical state of the region. The critical issue, of course, is the way the US might respond to a flashpoint that threatens to generate a wider war. Taylor urges the US to recalibrate its regional security posture and focus more on the East China Sea and the Korean Peninsula and less on the South China Sea and Taiwan. The spectre of Donald Trump’s influence over US responses to events makes this a challenging proposition.
With useful outline maps to accompany the text, Taylor has provided an excellent means for a wide readership to gain an insight into a region which has profound significance for Australia’s security and economic interests.
The RUSI – Vic Library thanks the publisher for making this work available for review.