More than ‘regional integration’, the ‘power shift’ towards China and ‘Asia’ has come to dominate the debates about the Asia-Pacific and global order. As the maritime sphere is the centre stage on which this shift unfolds, East Asian seas have become highly dangerous and divisive in the minds of politicians, bureaucrats and scholars alike. Therefore, analysing international politics through the prism of maritime politics enables us to gain deeper understanding of how socio-economic change such as it undergirds the ‘rise of China’ alters political orders. The perspective including two of China’s closest neighbours, Japan and South Korea, is particularly useful for transcending the limiting frames of conventional theorizing. Discourse analysis of maritime politics reveals how governments have stepped up their efforts to secure or ‘stabilize’ the moving boundaries of the current political order. This happened through the production of danger and concomitant disciplining of thinking about acceptable alternates to that order in three dimensions. First, East Asian seas are seen as borderlands between the civilized modern society and uncivilized wild nature, to be developed. Second, the seas coincide with the political boundaries among China, Japan and South Korea and their safeguarding is imperative for the preservation of official narratives of national unity. Third, the delineation between ‘East’ and ‘West’ that cuts across the ocean makes East Asian seas borderlands among civilizations to be secured. This understanding of change suggests that the future of order depends much more on governments’ ability to reconstitute their states’ social bases than the current debates of power shift and regionalism acknowledge.

Please click here to read the full “Securing the seas, securing the state: Hope, danger and the politics of order in the Asia-Pacific” article in Political Geography by Dr. Christian Wirth. Dr. Christian Wirth is an Adjunct Research Fellow at the Griffith Asia Institute and a Visiting Associate Professor at the Tohoku University School of Law.