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

How war could break out over Japan's islands.

As part of the conditions of surrender, the PLA commander requested that his men be allowed to go to America, Japan or Taiwan instead of being deported back to China. There was much debate over this issue in Japan: some suggested that the Chinese soldiers be put on trial while others said they should be forgiven; yet others said they should repatriated while some felt that the Chinese soldiers should be given a choice of the country they wish to reside in. When gathering personal information from the captured Chinese soldiers, the Japanese government decided to add a column on the form for the soldiers to indicate their preferred country of residence. Over 60 percent of the Chinese troops checked the option for residing in America; nearly 30 percent picked Japan; the remainder picked Taiwan. Not a single soul chose China.

On the nineteenth day of the Sino-Japanese war, the Chinese government announced that it would cease all military activity in the Senkaku Islands region. Mainland propaganda, however, announced that China had extracted an enormous victory over the Japan Self-Defense Forces and punished Japan, inflicting innumerable casualties and military losses. The Chinese government reiterated its sovereignty over the Senkaku Islands, and again warned Japan: Don’t ever provoke China, or there will be even more disastrous consequences.

The new Sino-Japanese war thus concluded on this note. Internationally, China was regarded as the vanquished. China had lost its entire East Sea Fleet, half its North Sea Fleet, crippling losses to its South Sea Fleet, and more than half its air force. Japan lost nearly half its navy and a third of its air force. The US sustained relatively few losses—four naval vessels were sunk, twelve badly damaged and about twenty fighters downed or damaged—in part because of the Americans’ superior technology, and also due to the fortuitous command by the Chinese Central Military Commission in the early phase of the war, which ordered that Chinese forces should “only attack Japanese ships, avoid attacking American ships.”

In Taiwan, the Sino-Japanese victory was celebrated joyously, and mass demonstrations calling on the Taiwanese government to immediately declare the island’s independence soon followed...

For the duration of the Sino-Japanese war, uniformed and plainclothes police kept security tight across China. Even the much-mocked local residents’ committee grew more active, strictly surveilling the movements and censoring the speech of citizens. The Chinese authorities ordered mainland media not to run independent reports of the Sino-Japanese war; all reports had to be approved by officials at Xinhua News Agency, the regime mouthpiece. Internet censorship was strengthened—all online discussions about politics or the war were deleted almost as soon as they were put up.

A week after the war, however, change was in the air. On the Chinese Internet, some posts that were critical of the government escaped censorship. At first, criticism was veiled and humorous: “Who can say what the conclusion to the New Sino-Japanese war was?” “Word on the street is that a certain party was defeated” “It is rumored that an island was completely lost.”

Online criticism gradually grew more direct: “The new Sino-Japanese war is another national shame!” “The east sea territories were lost under humiliating terms!” “Put aside the Senkaku Islands, usher in a New China!” “Down with the corrupt government!”

Some of these posts were deleted, but still others remained, inspiring debate amongst the populace. It was subsequently learned that the loosening of Internet supervision was not official policy, but the doing of some online censorship workers who decided to let netizens vent their anger.

The Internet discussion soon found its way onto WeChat, the mobile messaging service. Before long, web protest turned into street protests. College students started leaving their campuses in droves and held aloft their Internet slogans on banners: “The new Sino-Japanese war is another national shame!” “The east sea territories were lost under humiliating terms!” “Put aside the Senkaku Islands, usher in a New China!” “Down with the corrupt government!”

In major cities across China, regular citizens started joining the college students in the streets, first in the hundreds, then eventually in the tens of thousands and upwards. Military and police officers, armed to the teeth, were mobilized and placed on standby. But they refused to suppress the students and citizens, as though they were waiting for some kind of order.

This situation persisted for days. Posts on the Chinese Internet calling for the Chinese regime leader to resign suddenly surfaced, and these were mysteriously not censored. People realized that the top leader hadn’t made a public appearance for several days, a fact that went unreported in the press. Party media soon started carrying scholars’ reflections on the Sino-Japanese war.

Chinese scholars said: “The war could have been avoided, but some of us were unbelievers!” “Speaking truthfully, nobody provoked us. It wasn’t Japan that challenged us, but we who challenged others.” “Matters shouldn’t have reached this stage; it’s all because some members of our top leadership leaned too far left, were too stubborn and thought themselves infallible!” “Making enemies on all sides and turning all neighboring countries hostile; what sort of leadership skill is this?”

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