China's Master Plan to Crush Japan in Battle
Recent tension between the China and Japan in the East China Sea has raised the possibility of armed conflict the two countries. The two historical antagonists have not fought since 1945, in part because China has been unable to project power beyond its borders.
Two decades of double digit defense budget increases for the People’s Liberation Army have sharply changed that. China now has more ships and planes than Japan, and appears to have a large, modern force in mind to challenge U.S. forces in the Western Pacific.
Although unlikely, the possibility of the second and third largest economies in the world slugging it out is a fearsome prospect. Even more so is the likelihood that the United States would be drawn into the conflict.
The decision to go to war
There are several reasons why China and Japan might go to war. A minor incident over the East China Sea might spiral out of control. China might decide to settle old scores, such as avenging its loss in the 1894-1895 Sino-Japanese War and losses during World War II. The Communist Party, facing domestic tensions, might start a war to rally the country.
In any event, in our scenario China has decided it is time to settle the Japan issue. The Party orders the People’s Liberation Army to inflict a humiliating blow on Japan that will drive it into a position of neutrality. Furthermore, a victory would drive a wedge between the United States and Japan, ending the alliance and driving American forces back to Guam.
Plan of attack
Ironically, China has not seriously prepared for war with Japan. However China has built up the capability to conduct an air and naval blockade of Taiwan, seeking to “degrade Taiwan’s defenses, neutralize Taiwan’s leadership, or break the public’s will to fight.” As the PLA’s abilities increase, these plans can scale towards larger, more distant country—like Japan.
The PLA analyzes Japan’s strengths and weaknesses—as well as its own—and draws up plans for a lightning campaign. First, the PLA will launch a surprise attack with a barrage of ballistic and cruise missiles. The objective of these strikes will be to degrade Japan’s ability to defend itself, leaving the country at the mercy of China.
The main force for this attack on Japan would be the conventionally-armed ballistic missiles of China’s Second Artillery Corps. The Second Artillery oversees all long-range missiles, both ballistic and cruise, armed with both conventional and nuclear warheads.
Next, the main islands of Japan will fall under blockade. The PLAN will fight its way east beyond Japan, destroying surviving Japanese air and naval forces. Japan will be cut off from the rest of the world. American naval forces will then be kept at bay with anti-ship ballistic missiles.
Among the major powers, Japan is particularly vulnerable to blockade. An island country with few resources and scarce arable land, modern Japan’s existence depends on secure air and sea lanes. Japan imports 60 percent of its food and 85 five percent of its energy from abroad.
Its ties to the outside world severed, Japan would have no choice but to surrender.
Under the terms of the U.S-Japan Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security, Washington is bound to help defend Japan. Japan is a popular ally in the United States, and public sentiment could push the United States to help defend it, regardless of circumstance.
China has few good options for dealing with America. China has enough firepower for a surprise attack and short war on its terms, but if it carries it out, China would make the same mistake Japan made at Pearl Harbor. Even if China were to cause heavy losses among U.S. forces in Asia, the Americans would continue to flow ships, planes and ground forces into the area as reinforcements.
Under our scenario, the PLA believes a powerful enough blow against American forces in the region will force the U.S. to cut its losses, throw Japan under the bus, and sue for peace.
Sounds naïve? It’s happened before.
The first stage of a Chinese attack on Japan would consist of cyber attacks against the whole of Japanese society. Cyber has the unique ability to disrupt civilian life while causing few if any casualties. China would be targeting public opinion—the center of gravity in a democratic society—by demoralizing Japanese civilians.
China’s army of hackers go after banks, stock exchanges, communications, energy grids, transportation networks and logistics systems, with the goal of disrupting normal life as much as possible. Cyber attacks would go on for days or even weeks ahead of kinetic attacks, in some ways duplicating the intent of aerial campaigns from previous wars—without much of the lethal effects against civilians.