The great British geopolitical theorist Halford Mackinder wrote that great statesmanship requires “geographical capacity” and “an insight into the minds of other nations.” He explained geographical capacity as a “mind which flits easily over the globe, which thinks in terms of the map, which quickly clothes the map with meaning, which correctly and intuitively places the commercial, historical, or political drama on its stage.”

The concept of “soft power”, popularized by Harvard’s Joseph Nye, has always seemed artificial. Power as wielded by nations is not neatly divisible into “hard” and “soft” categories. The great realist philosopher of power Hans Morgenthau identified the elements of national power as geography, natural resources, industrial capacity, population, military preparedness, national morale, the quality of government, and the quality of diplomacy.

Predicting the global future is never easy. Even the most knowledgeable and fair-minded observers of geopolitics frequently miss the mark. After the First World War, the German historian Oswald Spengler predicted the decline of the West. In 1964, the American political philosopher James Burnham opined that the West was committing suicide. In 1987, just a few years before the collapse of the Soviet Union, Yale’s Paul Kennedy warned that the US would likely suffer from imperial overstretch in its struggle with Soviet-led communism.

This latest volume in the Series on Contemporary China published by World Scientific looks at the historical, geopolitical, and legal aspects of the ongoing disputes over the South China Sea and its islands, reefs, and rocks. Edited by Tsu-sung Hsieh, a retired Taiwanese navy captain and professor at the Ming Chuan University School of Law in Taipei, the book is composed of papers presented at the 2017 South China Sea Conference by scholars from Taiwan, China, the Philippines, and the United States.