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

How war could break out over Japan's islands.

In the air, the American and Japanese pilots reigned supreme. Chinese fighters proved no match for American fifth generation F-22 and F-35 fighters. Below the seas, the Los Angeles-class submarines overwhelmed the Chinese navy. Tomahawk missiles, fired from the USS Ronald Reagan, a Nimitz-class aircraft carrier, wrecked and ruined virtually all Chinese military airfields in the theater of conflict.

The turning point of the war came with the sinking of the Chinese aircraft carrier, the Liaoning. During early days of the new Sino-Japanese war, a Chinese fleet consisting of the Liaoning, four destroyers, four corvettes and other support vessels had played a key role in the East China Sea, destroying any Japanese warship it chanced upon, and forcing the retreat of Japan’s main naval force.

But the Liaoning-led Chinese fleet was soon repelled by continued assaults from American and Japanese aircraft and warships. One Chinese destroyer was sunk after being hit with a barrage of guided missiles, while two other destroyers were so badly damaged that they were rendered combat ineffective. The Liaoning was stripped of protection as the other Chinese warships were deployed for other sorties. During a bout of bitter fighting, a Lanzhou-class destroyer even broke formation and tried to escape the fighting altogether.

The various combat developments gradually exposed the aircraft carrier Liaoning. Five Soryu-class Japanese submarine, which had been tailing the carrier at a distance in the East China Sea, seized the opportune moment to strike—twenty missiles were fired at the Liaoning, all hit their mark, and the Chinese aircraft carrier exploded in flame, began listing and its charred hull crumbled.

The Soryu-class submarine battle group fired another ten torpedoes at the Liaoning, and the Chinese aircraft carrier sunk in wave of explosions and a towering blaze. It was later learned that the vice-chairman of the Central Military Commission, who was on board the carrier, had a premonition of impending doom and hopped on a speed boat before the ship sunk. He managed to escape with no worse than a singed scalp.

After the Liaoning incident, Beijing asked Washington for armistice and requested that the United States act as a peace mediator. Beijing also suggested that Japan and China should both withdraw their forces fifty nautical miles from the Senkaku Islands, either in turns or simultaneously. Washington rejected the Chinese demands, reaffirmed Japan’s administration over the islands and ordered Chinese military troops to leave the Senkaku Islands and its nearby waters.

As ceasefire talks worsened, some Chinese generals threatened to fire nuclear weapons at the Japanese mainland. Japanese media then reported that unconfirmed sources said Japan has been secretly developing small and precise nuclear weapons capable of striking any targets in China. Washington also announced that any attempt by China to use nuclear weapons would be met with a preemptive nuclear strike by America, and stressed that the USS Ronald Reagan and other Nimitz-class aircraft carriers in the theater of conflict were already equipped with nuclear warheads.

During the conflict in the East China Sea, there was fighting going on concurrently in the South China Sea. An American battleship group had fired Tomahawk missiles at the Chinese man-made islands in the Spratly Islands (Fiery Cross Reef, Mischief Reef and Subi Reef), destroying airfields, radar and other military equipment. This incident proved that the artificial Chinese islands were no better than defenseless, fixed aircraft carriers that could be laid to waste in a heartbeat.

The Chinese South Sea Fleet, badly decimated by the combined assaults of Japan-American forces, found itself under attack by the Vietnamese navy. The Vietnamese quickly seized islands in the Spratly Islands chain formerly occupied by the Chinese, as well as some of the Paracel Islands. The Philippines, citing a mutual defense treaty with the United States, engaged the Chinese navy in bitter fighting, and later declared that it was taking Mischief Reef and Scarborough Shoal in the Spratly Islands. Meanwhile, India deployed its mountain divisions in a surprise attack on PLA forces in contested border territories West of China. The victorious Indian troops tore down Chinese military infrastructure in those areas and erected their own military fortifications to prevent a Chinese counterattack.

Back on Senkaku Islands, the over three thousand PLA ground troops holding out in defensives fortifications were locked in an impasse. The Japan Maritime Self-Defense Forces eventually surrounded the island and called for the PLA troops to surrender or be attacked. The PLA troops laid down their weapons and gave in without a fight.

Before the surrender, an interesting exchange between the PLA troop commander and his men was overheard.

The Chinese commander had shouted to his men: “Brothers, we’ve conquered the Diaoyu Islands, but the navy and air force have been defeated and no longer have our backs. They’ve retreated, leaving us in this desperate position! What say you?”

The troops buzzed.

The commander then yelled: “Fellows, you’ve stuck with this old soldier, so I mustn’t let you down. Most of you are the only child in the family, am I right?”

“Yes!” the men replied.

The commander gazed around and continued: “In consideration of the plight of your parents, this old soldier can’t lead you to your doom! What say you?”

The matter was settled in a chorus of assent.