Philip Bowring has been based in Asia for forty-four years writing on regional financial and political issues successively as correspondent for the Financial Times, editor of the Far Eastern Economic Review and columnist for the International Herald Tribune. He currently writes columns for the South China Morning Post,, a website of which he is a founder, and The Globalist. He has just completed a history of Maritime Southeast Asia, focused mainly on the pre-colonial eras, to be published in 2018.


China’s Silk Road Illusions

A painting by Hong Nian Zhang showing Ming dynasty mariner Zheng He with his fleet of trading ships, late twentieth century

The Chinese government’s marketing of the Belt Road Initiative has played upon myths and half-remembered facts about China’s past—“the glory of the silk routes,” in Xi Jinping’s words. And the narrative gives credence to the notion that, until the age of Western aggression, China was the master of the region. But China has enough problems on its own borders without dreams of reliving the achievements of the Ming dynasty master mariner Zheng He. Where will the BRI be in 2030?

Indonesia & China: The Sea Between

Indonesian President Joko Widodo and Chinese President Xi Jinping, Yanqi Lake, China, May 15, 2017

Indonesia announced on July 14 that it was renaming a part of the South China Sea the “North Natuna Sea.” China immediately demanded a retraction—which it will not get. At no point since the fifteenth century had a Chinese government been actively involved in the seas that it now claims on the basis of history.