Could America Get Sucked Into a China-Japan Conflict?

So China and Japan are both threatening conflict in their fairly brutal ongoing argument over a few tiny disputed islands (and their mineral rights):

Senkaku islands

With global growth slowing, both countries’ leaders might look to a war as a way to distract from economic woe. While a limited war between China and Japan over the islands — perhaps of the scale of the Falkland War between Britain and Argentina in the 1980s — would be unsettling for the global economy, the real question is whether or not such a conflict could spiral into something bigger. 

The first critical point to note is that both countries’ leadership are increasingly hawkish in tone and character. China is in many ways seeking to establish itself on the world stage as a global military and economic powerhouse. Countries seeking to establish themselves on the global stage have traditionally sought out conflict. Japan is an ideal candidate for Chinese hostility. There is a lot of resentment — Japan’s invasion and occupation of Manchuria was brutal, and filled with war crimes (war crimes that the Japanese continue to deny). But more than that, Japan is an American protectorate, dotted with American bases, and subject to a mutual defence treaty. If China is to eclipse the United States as a global superpower, China must be able to show that she can impose her will on America.

And Shinzo Abe, Japan’s new Prime Minister has made it his life’s work to change Japan’s pacifistic constitution. Japan is faced with a twenty year economic depression, falling birthrates, a population of “herbivore” males with an aversion to sexuality. Abe may see hostility against China as a gateway to greater nationalism, and greater nationalistic fervour as a gateway to a national recovery.

First of all, it is critical to note that the United States is not legally obligated under its with Japan treaty to intercede on Japan’s behalf. The treaty states that the United States is required to report any such event to the UN Security Council, instead:

Each Party recognizes that an armed attack against either Party in the territories under the administration of Japan would be dangerous to its own peace and safety and declares that it would act to meet the common danger in accordance with its constitutional provisions and processes. Any such armed attack and all measures taken as a result thereof shall be immediately reported to the Security Council of the United Nations in accordance with the provisions of Article 51 of the Charter. Such measures shall be terminated when the Security Council has taken the measures necessary to restore and maintain international peace and security.

Very simply, this means that China can attack Japan without fearing an inevitable American retaliation. That fact alone makes a small skirmish fairly likely.

So what if China successfully captured the islands — and perhaps even more Japanese territory — as we can perhaps assume given China’s overwhelming size and military-spending advantages? Well, the United States and presumably the international community other than China’s allies would seek to diplomatically pressure China to stand down and reach a peaceful arbitrated resolution via the UN.

If China refused to stand down and accept a diplomatic solution — that is, if China was absolutely set on staring down the United States — then the United States would be forced to choose between providing military support to Japan — and possibly ultimately escalating up to a global war between China and her allies and the United States and her allies — or facing a humiliating climbdown, and accepting both Chinese sovereignty over the islands, as well as any other Japanese territory that China might have captured, as well as face the possibility of further Chinese incursions and expansionism in the Pacific in the future.

Who will blink first is uncertain. Only the Chinese really know how strong they are, how far they are willing to push, and how much of their threats are a bluff.

On the other hand, as I wrote last year:

The relationship between China and the United States today is superficially similar to that between Great Britain and Germany in 1914. Germany and China — the rising industrial behemoths, fiercely nationalistic and determined to establish themselves and their currencies on the world stage. Great Britain and the United States  — the overstretched global superpowers intent on retaining their primacy and reserve currency status even in spite of huge and growing debt and military overstretch.

Mutually assured destruction can only act as a check on expansionism if it is credible. So far, no nation has really tested this credibility.

Nuclear-armed powers have already engaged in proxy wars, such as Vietnam. How far can the limits be pushed? Would the United States launch a first-strike on China if China were to invade and occupy Taiwan or Japan, for example? Would the United States try to launch a counter-invasion? Or would they back down? Launching a first-strike is highly unlikely in all cases — mutually assured destruction will remain an effective deterrent to nuclear war. But perhaps not to conventional war and territorial expansionism.

The chance of global war in the near-term remains very low. But so long as China and Japan continue their antagonism, the chance of global war in the long-term is rising.

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54 thoughts on “Could America Get Sucked Into a China-Japan Conflict?

  1. The Falklands was limited because neither side could deploy more assests in theatre.
    We were both going at it with everything we had, it just wasnt much.

    China and Japan would have no such limitations.

  2. Government intervention – not the rigours of free markets – is the cause of financial mayhem: The Sydney Festival Of Dangerous Ideas, late 2012

  3. The USA should make it a new USA State and be done with it. They did it with Hawaii.

    Then China can technically declare War on the USA.

  4. Why would you wish for war, Buddy!? That’s crazy! It’s a totally useless waste of resources for not only China & Japan but also the US if a war ensues over these petty islands – the disruption to flows of trade would be massively skewed and corporations would shirk their ‘national’ responsibilities vis a vis ‘their side’ which ultimately would alas just to lead to more finger pointing at so called non patriotic individuals. Plus, it would be horrible for business.

    • My point was the USA annexed Hawaii, which Japan stupidly declared war on and lost. China would not make this mistake (The USA would test a nuclear bomb on Beijing)

      Then China would stop making nationalist claims based in historical maps etc. See my posts below.

    • War is what the Chinese government wants. It is the most logical and legal way to reduce it’s
      population. Human life is worthless under communist regime anyway….

      • “Human life is worthless under communist regime anyway…”

        The Chinese State wants to kill its own people? Gimme a break. Spend a little time reading about what is really going on in China, especially places like ShenZhen, and you won’t see that country as communist. ShenZhen makes the US look communist, it’s that free-market. That is why it and Hong Kong are basically in a modern day Industrial Revolution right now.

        Xi Jinping is well aware of the massive wealth production engine in the South, and he is embracing it. Good for him, and good for China.

        Do they care about their citizens? Hell yes they do. How many government are encouraging precious metal accumulation among citizens, even though it obviously reduces a State’s ability to inflate to make ends meet? Is the US doing this? Hell no.

        The Chinese view of government has developed over centuries. A cross between the ‘Philosopher King’, rule by meritocracy, and rule by consensus. Do I personally favor it above a more direct-democractic approach, IE Ancient Athens? No, but to dismiss that tradition out of hand is fairly naive. It’s like dismissing Islam if you are a Buddhist, and vice versa.

  5. A system of private gardens – some of whom may choose to charge entrants a fee – opposed to national parks enables more community involvement in their maintenance and thus greater sense of ownership and communal well being, incentivising the production of more locally grown food along sensible lines that are, it goes without saying, more sustainable.

  6. You’re probably right, John, to draw attention to this “chance of global war in the long-term”.
    I have no private/significant connections to government or military; I hope you do.

    But here’s the CURRENT picture as I see it. UN is toothless and disgraced as peacemaker — remember that China once invaded Korea and fought against UN troops. For at least four years the US government will NOT forcefully oppose any “staring down” by China (or Russia as Obama has already revealed). Japan’s invasion and atrocities were long ago and against a different Chinese regime. Japan’s jingoist culture ended in 1945. The current Chinese regime has never been militarily expansionist, as they could have been after the collapse of the USSR and the weakening of the US from unsuccessful Viet Nam and mid east wars.

    • Don, I never understood how the USA could claim an Island like Hawaii as its own State. In theory they could annex Australia too.

      What other States of the USA are extra territorial to the mainland. I know Alaska was Russian a long time ago.

      Is it true the US left all their rubbish warships in Hawaii and goaded the Japanese into bombing? I know at the time the Japanese considered the Hawaiian Islands Japanese. Just like this situation.

        • Interesting. It would not surprise me that FDR anticipated a Japanese response.

          The more I understand history the sadder I feel, that psychopaths are in charge, and lead good men to their graves.

          The key is recognising psychopaths and exposing them for what they are. But most psychopaths are great liars and the gullible voting public makes the same mistakes.

      • Buddy @ Jan 21 @ 12:15: I’ll respond with what I know and think probable, and try to add more later.

        Roosevelt administration goaded Germany vigorously to provoke an excuse for US intervention; Nazi victory was unacceptable because of moral, business and political support for British and Jews. Herbert Hoover book cited above contains surprises for me, but I can’t challenge any. Remember that on December 8, 1941 FDR declared war on Germany as well as Japan, absent any German provocation. Hoover cited high-level military overconfidence vs. Japan; I suspect there was the same toward Germany — e.g., not foreseeing the effectiveness of German submarine packs.

        Pearl Harbor attack: there was/is no evidence of standing or real-time orders to ignore tactical warnings, but peacetime low-level alertness was tolerated — maybe encouraged — in spite of worrisome strategic intelligence. The ships were not “rubbish”, and there was no consideration of dispersing them to reduce vulnerability. Again, it reveals gross overconfidence about Japanese capability and intention*. Summary: no treason, but plenty of arrogance and dumb-ass!

        * Venerable military wisdom (including from Sun Tzu, I believe): Don’t speculate on your (potential) enemy’s intentions — prepare for his capabilities.

  7. Why would China confront the United States during it’s supernova phase? That would risk a illogical backlash from US citizens. No, China is winning the war for silver & gold right now, no need to do anything different. Just read about the incredible wealth creation/new industrial revolution in places like ShenZhen.

    China would back down from the US if it comes to that even if it loses face, that is for certain. The Chinese are patient as fuck, and smart. What does that mean? That means they will get their cold revenge on the West, no matter what dynasty is in power, no doubt.

    Right now it is simply trying to find ways to fuck with Japan, without angering the US, definitely not trying to cause us to lose face.

      • g —

        If your enemy is secure at all points, be prepared for him. If he is in superior strength, evade him. If your opponent is temperamental, seek to irritate him. Pretend to be weak, that he may grow arrogant. If he is taking his ease, give him no rest. If his forces are united, separate them. If sovereign and subject are in accord, put division between them. Attack him where he is unprepared, appear where you are not expected.

        Sun Tzu

        • John: Assuming that g and you are addressing China vs. USA, my evaluation, somewhat like yours, is that China considers the USA a competitor (for Asian hegemony, global trade, and global prestige), a trade partner, and assuredly a debtor — but NOT an enemy in the Sun Tzu meaning. As g points out, the Chinese rulers are patient, thinking they are “winning” — and they ARE.

          As to China vs. Japan’s islands, Taiwan — where China has backed down — is a precedent. In the current controversy, the case for Chinese repatriation is weaker, but the US is weaker and China is stronger. And I don’t know how voluminous are the disputed Chinese/Japanese oil & gas prospects, or were offshore Argentina at the time of Falklands fighting. [Usually a LOT of "acreage" is required to justify exploration, and then it takes enormous know-how and money].

          Related: You wrote that the credibility of Mutually Assured Destruction (nuclear deterrence) has not been tested. Didn’t the Cold War convince you? On the other hand, only once have nukes been used — against an adversary (Japan) already defeated, but requiring shock treatment to overthrow the dictatorship. [In contrast to WW2 Germany, which surrendered only after Hitler killed himself, long after defeat was assured]. Just as “all debt matters”, all nuclear capability matters; hence concern about rogue nations, aided, encouraged and tolerated by various anti-democratic nations and the UN (and possibly by Obama as part of is anti-US supremacy ideology.

    • G
      Unless china thinks the US has already fallen far enough for it to win a war?
      Nations frequently start wars they think they can win, and then go on to lose them.

      The idea that china isnt expansionist falls apart when one asks “how then is China so large” (second largest land area) and “Why does it have 19 subject peoples”….

  8. This Japanese provocation could actually trigger a war, but here, I don’t think that one would speak of ‘nuclear bomb’ beticide and outdated for a long time but with IEM.
    This Japanese provocation could actually trigger a war, but here, I don’t think that one would speak of ‘nuclear bomb’ beticide and outdated for a long time but with IEM.

  9. I take it the islands are considered valuable because the surrounding ocean may overlie oil deposits. The biggest payoff for the Chinese would seem to be in establishing a claim, rather than getting involved in a war. Eventually, either their claim could be bought out, or they would get a piece of the petroleum action. The Japanese are probably similarly motivated. It looks like pushing and shoving, not a real fight.

    • The Japanese are probably similarly motivated. It looks like pushing and shoving, not a real fight.

      I hope you are right. On the other hand both the USA and China are determined to establish hegemony in the Pacific. So…..

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  11. Both Japan and China are essentially client states of the U.S. What is China going to do, roll out its reconditioned cardboard Soviet aircraft carrier? Japan’s military is a joke [by design].

    This is a world where nobody can do much of anything without the permission of the U.S. When you got the world by the gonads, you apply appropriate pressure when necessary.

    • War about what? Resources? Markets? Territory? These are the only issues that actual wars are fought over [other than an occasional religious scrap].

      These are dufi about to squabble because some guy spilled his soy sauce in another guys rice bowl.

    • Buddy Jan 21 @ 19:51: China ends computer games, and its COMMUNIST PARTY* launches officially-created (pro-regime indoctrination) games. I doubt that this tells anything about warlike ambitions/intentions, but it does remind us of Communist/Nazi/totalitarian mind-control, and, even more importantly, that THE PARTY rules with absolute power as in USSR, etc. regimes.

      I believe that Obama, Communist indoctrinated/mentored, sees his administration of czars and anti-American ideologues as THE PARTY within the radicalized Democratic Party.

      • Footnote to above:

        * Every organizational element in the USSR, including the military, had a Party political watchdog. The head of government was the Secretary of the Communist party. I suspect that the Gestapo played the same role in Hitler’s regime.

  12. Modern wars do not just happen by chance. They are manufactured and created by financiers who usuallly finance opposing sides. Their agenda is to weaken governments, to indebt the the government. to destabalise the world, to have lots of people killed off, to generate fear and conflict and to re-configure the world so that they have even more power and control. If they control money, they control governments and they control the mass media and the people. They control global food production, energy, water and everything else…we then have a situation where they will ‘chip us’ for our own safety and convinience. A Brave New World and 1984 rolled into one. Isolated, seperated, atomized dumbed down and fearful consumers, in debt, paying taxes to pay the interest on the National Debt, worried about unemployment, sickness, health insurance and retirement or death…what to do what to do? Keep playing the game chasing the consumer goods, the status symbols, competing, fighting against others just like yourself in the same position as you?

    Or transcend the limits in your mind? Build communities, love thy neighbour and self…overcome the the mind locks see others like yourself as allies and friends so you can kill the machine system.

    • “…overcome the mind locks, see others like yourself as allies and friends so you can kill the machine system.”

      The “machine system,” as you refer to it, is nothing more than human nature, people using the power of the collective [military, government, corporation, the PTA, whatever] to steal from the individual.

      This is NEVER going to change, and although it will continue its ebb and flow, the individual will always win in the end, because it is only within the individual that the essence of being human exists.

      The collective will die over and over and over no matter its power, no matter its glory, no matter its wealth, because it has no soul, it has no ultimate purpose other than its own demise.

      • Agreed. However the individual to be human needs to curtail the dicates of his/her own ego. The ego is false, a shadow existence wanting to make itself permanant presumming that by dominating others and owning the most things one will be everlasting if not actually at the very least in the history books. The truth is there is only One and we are just manifestations the more we allign ourselves to the One and diminish the false ego the more enlightened we become and if there are many individuals like this, living in a community..there will be revolution (Ibn Khaldun said this he called them the ‘nomads’ or bedouin, but in the modern context it can be any urban or rural population that is not part of the mainstream). Living in a community entails the existence of a law, which protects individuals from the ego claims of others and establishes equity and justice between them. A law that discovers justice not one that legistlates and makes inhuman laws of usury and money lending ‘legal’.

        The egotistical man never disappears and as you say will gain dominance in time and occasionally when things become too unhealthy life will reset itself, allowing for the humane alternative to rise. When things get really bad as they are now…that is when individuals will start to ‘drop out’ and create real alternatives.

        • Agreed. However the individual to be human needs to curtail the dicates of his/her own ego.

          Since this does not happen often [enough], we sort of have to play the hand we are dealt, no?

        • It starts with parenting. I was taught right from wrong. I practice that in daily life. In small communities reputations matter. For example, a thief is quickly run out of a village, and finds themselves in a den of thieves in the big cities.

          Small dispersed communities are the best system for maintaining moral man.

        • robc (and following impermanence & Buddy R. of Jan 22): Amen! Right On! But in the US it will not be “nomads” dropping out — although many individuals/families/businesses are leaving CA, Il, NY, etc*. It will be peaceful revolution, probably by secession. “Come ye out from among them!”

          * Apparently starting in France — fleeing 75% tax.

        • [A footnote to my comment of Jan 23 @ 12:18, below]. Further on secession as a solution to corrupt, apartheid, socialist America.

          Chicago, NYC, LA, Detroit, etc*. have overthrown our Constitutional Republic. Sorted another way, African- and Mexican-Americans, single women, gays, radical environmentalists, atheists — single-federally-unconstitutional-issue/apartheid voting blocs organized and manipulated by dictatorship-seeking politicians — overwhelm ordinary citizens’ votes** in national elections. The politicians have “rewarded***” the mobs by unconstitutional “redistribution****” of other citizens’ income and savings so that they do not need to work for a living. We have arrived at the point where about half of us WORK for a living and half only VOTE for a living.

          Whereas Lincoln started the Civil War because the nation needed UNITY of North and South, the current sheepherders of the non-working citizens (and aliens) desperately need the taxes from the working citizens in order to continue APARTHEID, and will not willingly split with states whose majorities (workers) want to return to a Constitutional Republic. But, based on the success of grass-roots “tea party” type efforts*, I hope and believe that the following steps will be taken by We The People to reduce the tyranny of the Washington D.C. elites and someday return power to the people per the Constitution*****.

          1. Roll back Politically Correct corrupted/compromised language such as conservative, liberal, right, left, bi-partisan, civil rights, etc. Substitute “straight talk” — individual freedom, free markets, socialist, unlawful, non-partisan, Constitutional rights, unconstitutional, etc.

          2. Replace the ineffective Republican Party with a new “Loyal Opposition” party, possibly named the Independent Party or Constitutional Party.

          3. Amend the Constitution, starting with Amendment XVI which gives Congress unlimited income taxing authority, and including thwarting Executive and Judicial “legislating” by clarifications and updates. A Constitutional Convention can be called by 2/3 of the STATES; right now, a big majority of states have both Republican governors and Republican control of legislatures.

          4. Initiate multiple Impeachment and Recall proceedings for Constitutional violation.

          5. Create a new Constitutional Republic, possibly named the Independent States of America.

          * Inner-city political machines, usually conspiring with unions, have gone beyond stealing from city taxpayers and service-users. For example, Chicago Democrats control Illinois legislation — including taxes and public employment outlays, which have bankrupted the state and driven out jobs. They also breed ballot fraud, illegal campaign funds (bribes), and control state and federal Democratic Party nominations. In contrast, grass-roots politics is dispersed and run by volunteers.

          ** Obama would have overwhelmingly lost the 2012 presidential election if African-Americans OR Mexican Americans OR single women had not voted as blocs.

          *** Welfare, unemployment, false “disability”, food stamps, etc. often exceed wages for working. This permanent avoidance of the responsibility and pride of self/family support has NOT helped the poor, as attested by single parent families, drugs, gangs, school dropouts, murders, etc.

          **** “Redistribution” is NOT charity. It is government confiscation of one citizen’s money to give to another citizen (after skimming by politicians). That’s Socialism.

          ***** Remember: “All men (individual citizens) are endowed by their Creator with … unalienable rights …. That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.” Citizens have rights and are master; Government has limited powers and is servant!

  13. The U.S is the one that suck everyone else in the anticipation of if not war(s) but tensions of war(s). The cash register of US war machine industry have never stopping singing. Madam Clinton has been as busy going around the world gossiping about news of everyone’s neighbors’ stealing . America is one that’s pulling the poppy strings of Japan, the Philippines, etc. Although the little evil Vietnam indeed wants to suck the Americans, the Indians, the Russians into the conflict. The Americans and the Russians are happy busy selling their war machine to the region.

    As far as for Japan worry about China’s eating it’s lunch, At present, Japan worry more about S. Korea than China eat it’s lunch. Japan wants the big Chinese market desperately. Most that hostility are loud noises, all thunders no rain.

    • Ideally, no.

      Practically, maybe — depends on implementation. Could be a useful anti-gambling measure if implemented very carefully. On the other hand, these kinds of scheme can be set up to favour entrenched interests, big banks, etc, while discriminating against the little guy.

    • If it is done, it must be implemented world wide or else markets will move. Capital raising should be for long term capital and as a result, daily trading of shares is damaging (Business does not change so quickly on a daily basis). Split second High Frequency Trading is even worse. Algorithms programmed to interpret headlines is dangerous. Human judgement is best.

      • “Capital raising should be for long term capital and as a result, daily trading of shares is damaging”
        Daily traders provide a perfectly legitimate service, providing an intermediary between two long term traders.
        Do you really think there are advantages to making buying a loaf of bread as legally convoluted as buying a house?

        “Human judgement is best.”
        If that is true, then in a free market, human traders will out perform computer systems…..

        • “If that is true, then in a free market, human traders will out perform computer systems…..”

          We can’t test this because one influences/skews the other.

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  16. Actually I view the japan-china conflict as currency war. Japan devalue its currency and exporting inflation to china, in return china whips up anti-japanese sentiments causing japanese exports to collapse.

  17. Pingback: Conflict Observer Project | Senkaku/Diaoyu Dispute: Scenarios

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