My latest reading is a bit off the beaten track for me. ‘The Coming War’ by Todd Crowell postulates a war between Japan and China in the near future. You might think this is a bit far fetched – until you read this book.
Putting to one side the long history of conflict between the two states, there are a number of possible causes. In the main they revolve around disputed island chains.
The Senaku islands are 100 miles from the nearest occupied Japanese island in the East China Sea. Formally annexed by Japan in 1895 they are actually closer to China and may have significant gas and oil deposits. They used to be occupied by a fish processing plant. However, the Chinese claim they were Chinese and only occupied as a result of Japan’s aggressive wars and therefore should have been returned after WW2.
Japan has been building up its defences in the area, including new radar complexes and moving troops from the northern islands, where they watched the Russians, to the Southern islands. Anti-ship missiles, aircraft and ships have also been deployed. Japan’s Western Infantry regiment has been retrained in amphibious operations.
The Chinese have also been building up their armed forces in the area and are believed to have war plans for a short sharp war in the East China Sea. Incursions into what Japan would claim as its airspace have become more common. Chinese naval flotillas pass through nearby channels.
Chinese political rhetoric plays to the sense of grievance over Japanese actions in the 20th Century and right wing governments in Japan are far more militaristic than any seen since WW2. Anti-Japan protests are not uncommon in China.
The author describes the forces available to both sides and describes possible scenarios. Obviously, China heavily outguns the Japanese defence forces, but not as significantly as you might imagine. And then there is the stance that Japan’s treaty ally the USA might take if these actions develop into a shooting war.
The best prospects for defusing the tension appear to rest with an endangered species of bird, the short-tailed albatross. The suggestion is that Senkaku is turned into a neutral nature reserve - an elegant solution that might work, if there is the political will to find a peaceful settlement. However, that is by no means clear.
There are plenty of ‘what ifs’ for the modern wargamer to try out including air, naval and amphibious operations.