If the U.S. and China Go to War: The Battle of the Senkakus

How war could break out over Japan's islands.

Brother Choy was both delighted and alarmed—was this a good or bad turn of events? As the boats—big and small, and traveling in close formation—drew nearer, they turned out to indeed be Chinese vessels—were there ten? A hundred? A thousand? No one could say for sure.

Panicking at the new development, the twelve Japanese patrol boats started to break formation. Some Japanese security officials started radioing their superiors for instructions, while others hailed the rapidly approaching Chinese fishing boats, requesting that they immediately retreat.

The Chinese boats ignored the hailing and stayed on course. Some of these vessels even picked up speed. As the Japanese patrol boats readjusted their formation and prepared to intercept, the Japanese security officials received word from their superiors that about a dozen Chinese maritime authority and police ships were following the newly arrived Chinese fishing boats.

During the bustle, some of these Chinese fishing vessels managed to break the Japanese patrol boat blockade and landed on the Senkaku Islands. The manner in which the “fishermen” moved suggested that they had received military training.

Upon observing these newly arrived Chinese “fishermen,” Brother Choy suddenly recalled whispers of warning from others—Old Fa, the mainland Chinese Senkaku activist, was said to be a communist secret agent. Indeed, Brother Choy recalled, Old Fa’s recent rendezvous with the Hong Kong activists appeared to be unimpeded; if anything, Old Fa had interacted more frequently with Hong Kong activists recently than in the past couple of decades. It could be that Old Fa was receiving orders from on high to embroil the Hong Kong activists in an incident. The sense of being duped sent a shiver down Brother Choy’s spine.

How could Brother Choy know that the placid state of affairs between the Japanese and the Chinese was but a smokescreen for a larger conspiracy?

As more and more Chinese “fishermen” streamed onto the Senkaku islands, the Japanese security personnel fired warning shots into the air. Later, Chinese would authorities accuse the Japanese of firing the first shots in the coming conflict.

Upon hearing the warning shots, the hundreds of Chinese “fishermen” on Senkaku whipped out pistols and submachine guns, and opened fire on the Japanese security detail who landed on the island, killing all of them and turning the clear, cerulean waters and sands blood red. The “fishermen” then raised several red Chinese flags. Brother Choy, who watched the entire incident in a daze, didn’t know whether to feel angry or afraid.

Soon, fighter jets could be heard screaming through the air, and muffled explosions echoed across the water. Brother Choy knew that the Chinese and Japanese were engaging each other in the air and at sea; although he knew that he should be excited at this turn of events, he couldn’t help feeling that matters had escalated. As the Japanese patrol boats carrying the Hong Kong and mainland activists sped away from the Senkaku Islands, Brother Choy, not wanting to contemplate the present reality, closed his eyes.

In the name of “protecting and defending Chinese citizens,” the Chinese government started an invasion of the Senkaku Islands. A new Sino-Japanese war had erupted.

The conflict persisted for over two months. The Chinese deployed the East Sea Fleet, the North Sea Fleet and the air force, while keeping South Sea Fleet in reserve. The Japanese deployed virtually the entire Japan Maritime and Air Self-Defense Forces. To support Japan, the United States deployed the United States Forces Japan, the Seventh Fleet in the Pacific and parts of the Third Fleet. Russia sent its Pacific Fleet near Japan as a symbolic warning force.

China had the advantage in the first two months of conflict. The “fishermen” who seized Senkaku were really troops from the People’s Liberation Army, and this three-thousand-odd force continued to hold the islands. Meanwhile, the Chinese air force, utilizing weaponry like the Su-27, Su-30, J-20 stealth fighter, J-21, J-31 and Pterodactyl I drones, destroyed military or civilian airfields on Ishigaki, Shimoji-shima, Naha and Yonaguni islands surrounding Senkaku, a severe blow for the Japanese air force. Chinese warships and submarines destroyed dozens of Japanese patrol boats, corvettes and destroyers.

But the PLA’s momentum was eventually blunted by the JSDF’s superior fighting abilities. Despite being a smaller force, the JSDF managed to inflict triple the casualties to the PLA during each skirmish, and soon the losses began taking a toll.

At the beginning of the war, Washington told Beijing that it strongly opposed China’s aggression and requested that Chinese troops immediately and unconditionally withdraw from the Senkaku Islands and cease the attack on Japan. Washington also reiterated that sovereign claims over the Senkaku Islands can only be resolved through peaceful negotiation. Beijing replied that the Senkaku Islands have always been Chinese territory, and that the Chinese government and people are firmly resolved in recapturing them. Beijing also requested that Washington stop favoring Japan, adopt a “correct” attitude, and face up to reality. Finally, Beijing said it was willing to maintain the peace, order and stability of the Pacific with the United States.

After the failed warning to China, the American military joined the fighting in accordance with the Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security between the United States and Japan. The situation began to reverse in favor of Japan. Any advantage China had with its new military hardware, which was heavily plagiarized from the Americans, was quickly negated. For instance, Chinese stealth fighters couldn’t evade American radar; American guided missiles, on the other hand, hardly missed any Chinese military target.