In 1895, Japan Crushed China in a War (And the Impact Is Still Felt to This Day)

June 4, 2018 Topic: Security Region: Asia Blog Brand: The Buzz Tags: ChinaJapanWorldWarHistoryNavyMilitaryTechnology

In 1895, Japan Crushed China in a War (And the Impact Is Still Felt to This Day)

We explain why. 

Clausewitz observes that a weaker combatant need not win an outright military triumph to win politically—the only kind of winning that matters. It can dishearten a muscle-bound adversary, or drive up the costs of victory so high that the adversary concludes it can’t win at an acceptable price.

Relative apathy bestows opportunity on weaker but resolute antagonists.

So to rifle through the pages of Jane’s Fighting Ships, project the victor in a naval clash, and pronounce other possibilities irrational is to rule out human ingenuity, human fallibility and the vagaries of war. Worse, it rules out politics.

Japan only needed a small-scale triumph over imperial China to fulfill its aims in 1894-1895. It saw no need to overthrow the Qing regime, occupy China or even vanquish the entire Qing navy. Today, likewise, China need not utterly defeat American arms to achieve modest goals. Capability sufficient to Beijing’s purposes may soon fall within the PLA’s grasp. Heck, it may already be within reach.

Take your prophecies, with a pinch of salt.

James Holmes is J. C. Wylie Chair of Maritime Strategy at the Naval War College and contributing coeditor of Strategy in the Second Nuclear Age (Georgetown, 2012). The views voiced here are his alone.
Image: Reuters.
This first appeared several years ago.