Maps are powerful tools for understanding the complexities of maritime Asia. Explore trade, natural resources, multilateral memberships, territorial and maritime issues, and the military balance in the region. Click on a map to enlarge the image. All data current as of summer 2014.
The Indo-Pacific region consists of over 20 countries. It spans from Russia in the North to Australia and New Zealand in the South, and from India in the West to Papua New Guinea in the East.
Asia is a vibrant and dynamic region with 4.3 billion inhabitants -- 60% of the global population. China is the most populous state in the region with 1.4 billion people. India is projected to pass China’s population in about 15 years, becoming the world’s most populous nation with 1.5 billion inhabitants.
Over half of the world's commercial shipping passes through the waterways of the Indo-Pacific region. The Strait of Malacca, in particular, is one of the most important shipping lanes in the world. The strait links the Indian and Pacific Oceans and carries approximately 25% of all traded goods. It also carries approximately 25% of all oil that travels by sea. At its narrowest point just south of Singapore, the Strait of Malacca is only 1.5 nautical miles wide, making it one of the world's most noteworthy strategic chokepoints.
One-third of the world’s liquefied natural gas passes through the Straits of Malacca and into the South China Sea, with the bulk of it originating in the Persian Gulf. LNG also flows into the region from Southeast Asia and Oceania. Much of this imported LNG is bound for Japan and South Korea.
The South China Sea contains significant proved and probable oil reserves, and countries in the region are eager to extract these. Particularly large quantities lie in the EEZs of Vietnam, Malaysia, and the Philippines. The East China Sea is also home to a gas field, but the extent of its reserves are unknown.
The China-ASEAN trade relationship is especially strong. All data depicted represents 2013 figures.
There are currently two free trade agreements under negotiation in East Asia. At present, Trans Pacific Partnership negotiating partners include Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, the United States, and Vietnam. The Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership negotiating partners include Australia, China, India, Japan, Korea, New Zealand, and all ASEAN member states. These two agreements, and the fact that some countries (Australia, New Zealand, Brunei, Japan, Malaysia and Singapore) are party to both, illustrates the dense economic interdependence of the region.
There are numerous multilateral fora in the region, and Asian nations vary substantially in their participation in these organizations. China, Japan, South Korea, and Australia are the most participatory states in the region when it comes to multinational fora.
Most nations in maritime Asia have signed and ratified the 1982 UN Conventional on the Law of the Sea. UNCLOS defines the rights and responsibilities of nations with respect to the world’s oceans, establishing guidelines for the use of natural resources, the environment, and for commercial affairs. UNCLOS entered into force in 1994. The United States of America is not a signatory to the treaty, although it follows its provisions as customary international law.
Under the 1982 UN Convention of the Law of the Sea, coastal states may claim an “Exclusive Economic Zone: of up to 200 nautical miles. States have the sole rights to natural resource extraction within their own EEZs, but must also allow innocent passage through these zones according to UNCLOS. If every state in maritime Asia claimed the full 200 nm EEZ to which it is entitled, many of these would be overlapping. The South China Sea is the site of several ongoing EEZ disputes between neighbors. Further north, Japan, China, and South Korea also have overlap in claimed EEZs.
The fact that a country claims a particular territory does not, however, mean that it controls it. Some countries have physical control over many of the islands that they claim, while others do not. Five different countries control some land features in the Spratly Islands, while just one state controls the Kuril Islands, Liancourt Rocks, Senkaku Islands, and Paracel Islands.
One unique claim is China’s Nine-Dash Line, which depicts Beijing’s claims in the South China Sea. The map originally contained 11 dashes and was issued by the Nationalist Chinese government in 1947. The Communist government adopted it when it took power in 1949, and later dropped two dashes to allow China and Vietnam to settle their claims in the Gulf of Tonkin. The Nine-Dash Line encompasses much of the South China Sea, but Beijing has not clarified whether it is making territorial claims on the land features inside this line or whether it is asserting maritime rights as well. In 2014, Beijing released a new map that featured an additional 10th dash to the east of Taiwan. Because it predates UNCLOS by several decades, the Nine-Dash Line is unrelated to an EEZ claim.
Several states in Maritime Asia have declared Air Defense Identification Zones. This includes India, China, Japan, Russia, South Korea, North Korea, and Taiwan. An ADIZ is an identified area of airspace extending beyond a national boundary in which civilian aircraft are required to identify themselves and may be subject to interception for that country’s national security. There are no international agreements or laws that govern the use of ADIZs: they are zones that individual countries establish for their own safety and security. The United States established the first ADIZ shortly after World War II. Although ADIZs may generally increase transparency and reduce the risk of accidents, several countries in East Asia have overlapping ADIZs. China’s East China Sea ADIZ, declared in 2013, also includes two pieces of disputed territory. According to the Convention on International Civil Aviation, states have sovereignty over the airspace over their territory, including territorial waters. Air Defense Identification Zones do not, however, confer any sovereign rights. Because they deem it to be illegitimate, the United States and Japan to do not comply with China’s declared ADIZ procedures.
Asian militaries also vary significantly in terms of spending as a percentage of GDP. According to this metric, Russia and Myanmar are the biggest spenders in the region, spending between four and five percent of GDP on defense. China, Vietnam, and South Korea are next, spending between three and four percent. Japan, the Philippines, Australia and Malaysia spend just one to two percent of GDP on their militaries, while most of South East Asia spends less than one percent.
The strength of the militaries of countries in maritime Asia varies significantly, as demonstrated by the significant disparities in their numbers of army, navy, and air force personnel. China, India, and North Korea each field over 1 million ground troops, and Russia has nearly that number on its Eastern Front alone. China also has the highest numbers of air force and navy personnel by far. Brunei, in contrast, boasts the lowest numbers of armed forces with fewer than 5,000 ground troops and approximately 1,000 navy and air force personnel. All figures current as of Summer 2014.
The US military has long maintained a significant, standing forward presence in the Indo-Pacific and maintains ground, air, naval, and marine assets in many Asian countries. Its most significant troop presence is in South Korea and Japan. It has also recently established a rotational military presence with some Pacific partners, including the Philippines and Australia. US assets and personnel deployed in Hawaii, Alaska, and Guam, are also devoted to the safety and security of the region. All deployment figures current as of summer 2014.
The Indian Ocean is not the site of nearly as many territorial or maritime disputes, but it is nonetheless inseparable Pacific assets and interests. Eighty percent of Japanese and 39 percent of Chinese oil imports pass through the Indian Ocean en route from the Middle East. Chinese firms also have billions of dollars of investments in East Africa, concentrated primarily in the oil and gas, railways and roads, and other mining sectors.