The South China Sea Disputes: Past, Present, and Future


An interview with Bill Hayton, author of The South China Sea: The Struggle for Power in Asia.

This interview was previously published on the Young China Watchers’ blog and is reprinted here with kind permission. Young China Watchers is a global network of China-focused young professionals across nine chapter cities, engaging with the most pressing issues emerging from China today.

Bill Hayton is a journalist with BBC World News and an Associate Fellow of the Asia Program at Chatham House. He is also the author of The South China Sea: The Struggle for Power in Asia, named a book of the year by both The Economist and Foreign Affairs in 2014. Young China Watchers’ Benjamin Herscovitch spoke recently with Hayton about the South China Sea disputes, recent developments, and what to expect in the rest of 2016.

Young China Watchers (YCW): You started writing The South China Sea: The Struggle for Power in Asia in 2011. What prompted you to delve into the messy complexities of the South China Sea dispute?

Bill Hayton: I’d written a book on Vietnam and was looking for another topic. In 2011, China cut the cables of some seismic survey ships, and suddenly the South China Sea dispute started to get coverage. I realized that there was space for a book that explained the dispute to the average reader. I thought it wouldn’t take too long because so much had already been written about the South China Sea dispute. But the more I looked into the existing material, the more I realized it was unreliable. The same references were being used, but no one had actually checked them. Often when you go back to the original sources, they fall apart in your hands; they’re just assertions, or they’re newspaper articles citing assertions. So it took quite a long time to dig out the evidence and finish the book.