The Spratly Islands are an archipelago of atolls, reefs, and quaint little islands in the South China Sea off the coast of Vietnam, Malaysia, and the Philippines. Who owns the islands? Depends who you are asking. All three of the above countries claims that they are theirs. What has really become irksome to those three countries (and other smaller countries which claim ownership of parts of the thousands of islands) is that China steadfastly claims that they belong to the Middle Kingdom.

When one looks at this matter in a logical geographical viewpoint, it is hard to argue how China would have any claim on these territories which are no where near China. Perhaps they believe since the English world calls the sea between the Philippines and Vietnam the ‘South China Sea’ that they are somehow entitled to the water and any land in it.

Why is this a big deal? The Spratly Islands, while containing no inhabitants and no arable land, might possibly be sitting on large oil reserves. Now it all makes sense, doesn’t it? The region has become tense and the future of the Spratlys are definitely in question.

I approached this matter in my latest novel, The Reach of the Banyan Tree. I’d like to share an exclusive excerpt with you that might put the region into context. Enjoy!

Excerpt from a chapter called “Whisperings” – Police Chief Hung meets the minister of the interior in an unsavory, closed door meeting which will have consequences for our protagonist Chip. 

Mr. Dung pulled out the chair at the head of the table opposite Hung and sat down, dragging on his cigarette like he was deep in thought. He was, in fact, sizing him up. He had heard of his previous indiscretions concerning the drug trafficking, which had been effectively ignored by the higher-ups. It occurred to him at that moment that, perhaps, Hung could be an asset in this situation.

“Mr. Hung, what do you know about the Spratly Islands?”

Hung looked perplexed, and his body language relaxed at the question.

“A series of islands in the East Sea claimed by China, Philippines, and Malaysia. But geographically they clearly belong to our country.”

“That’s correct. A deal has recently been struck to build oil rigs in the Spratlys. This hasn’t yet been announced to the world. It would be too inflammatory. In fact, every exploratory oil company in the world has refused to partner with us on this endeavor because of the sensitive nature of political ties in the region. All except one, that is.”

Mr. Dung paused for a minute to let everything sink in.

“Except for Carson Oil,” said Hung.

“Precisely. Now this crucial deal hangs on a certain individual in your prison. But I understand if he is released, you will have a very difficult situation on your hands.”

“The public will never accept it if there is no trial and conviction.”

“And if he goes to prison for his crimes, Carson Oil backs out.”

A long pause hung over the room.

“What if we both could get what we wanted? What would it get me?” asked Hung in an uncomfortably blunt manner.

“And how could that happen?”

“What if crowds were tipped off to the when and whereabouts of his release? It could get messy. Nothing could be guaranteed at that point. You know how mobs are when they get started.”

“Yes, I know very well how they can be. But is this manageable?”

“Very,” assured the police chief. “And …”

“What would you want?”

“I want to be head of security for your ministry.”

Dung snuffed out his cigarette.

“Before we talk about rewards, tell me about this case. Let me see the evidence.”

Hung opened the box and the two resorted to the worst type of unsavory conversation, which often take place in smoke-filled rooms behind closed doors.

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