China-Japan war possible in 2013: analyst

by Chris Zappone

This from Australia National University defence studies analyst Hugh White:

THIS is how wars usually start: with a steadily escalating stand-off over something intrinsically worthless. So don’t be too surprised if the US and Japan go to war with China next year over the uninhabited rocks that Japan calls the Senkakus and China calls the Diaoyu islands. And don’t assume the war would be contained and short.

I would add to this commentary from White: the possibly the greatest risk of a war arises from demographics. Not simply the preponderance of young, unmarried Chinese males, but the absence of Chinese, Japanese and American policymakers who have any memory of a world war. Most of them have passed on from the scene. The living memory of WWII would have hardwired the post-war generations to avoid such an outcome at all costs. Now that the generational memory has been more or less consigned to the history books – rather than living in the politburos and parliaments and congress, there is a greater chance of reckless decision-making.

See commentary like this on the Senkaku-Diaoyu island dispute “The Chinese public will not allow such a retreat.” (last paragraph)

Contrary to White’s view in the piece, I can’t help but think that after Iraq and Afghanistan there wouldn’t be some reluctance in Washington to embark on another costlier, bigger war. The US is broke and the public is more or less battle fatigued. Many in the US know nothing about the rising tensions between China and Japan. A war would be a hard sell. That doesn’t mean China should mistake this situation as weakness. If the situation demanded it, there would have to be some kind of US military response.

And if there were military action, the best case scenario would be something swift and limited. Then a new reality could crystallize around it: nationalisation of industries, a national war footing, reinvigoration of US industries, the strategic competition for resources could turn tactical in various theaters, a total global media war across the internet and airwaves, etc, etc. Let’s hope not. Or maybe it’s already happening.