South East Asia's role as the 'demographic cockpit of the globe'

"Europe is a landscape; East Asia a seascape. Therein lies a crucial difference between the 20th and 21st centuries," Robert D. Kaplan, a senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security, writes in Foreign Policy. "The most contested areas of the globe in the last century lay on dry land in Europe ... But over the span of the decades, the demographic and economic axis of the Earth has shifted measurably to the opposite end of Eurasia, where the spaces between major population centers are overwhelmingly maritime."

Kaplan describes South East Asia as "already deep into the post-Cold War phase of history" and its key nations as:

Vietnam - "a capitalist juggernaut despite its political system, seeking closer military ties to the United States"

China - "consolidated as a dynastic state by Mao Zedong after decades of chaos and made into the world's most dynamic economy by the liberalizations of Deng Xiaoping, is pressing outward with its navy to what it calls the 'first island chain' in the Western Pacific"

Indonesia - "The Muslim behemoth  ... having endured and finally ended decades of military rule, is poised to emerge as a second India: a vibrant and stable democracy with the potential to project power by way of its growing economy"

Singapore and Malaysia - "Also surging forward economically, in devotion to the city-state-cum-trading-state model and through varying blends of democracy and authoritarianism"

The composite picture is of  "a cluster of states, which, with problems of domestic legitimacy and state-building behind them, are ready to advance their perceived territorial rights beyond their own shores.

"This outward collective push is located in the demographic cockpit of the globe, for it is in Southeast Asia, with its 615 million people, where China's 1.3 billion people converge with the Indian subcontinent's 1.5 billion people.

"And the geographical meeting place of these states, and their militaries, is maritime: the South China Sea."