Thursday, November 8, 2012

China v Japan. Are the Senkaku Islands worth a war?

  China versus Japan sure would be a fun war.

  Fun, of course, being a relative term.

   For those who like watching the world burn, sure, it'd be an interesting fireworks display. At least until cheap Asian labor dried up, killing the world economy and suddenly Walmart has no cheap shit left to sell to subsistence consumers in the US. The world economy right now is married to the idea of backwater peasants, recently liberated from subsistence rice growing, getting subsumed into the brave new world of working for peanuts in concrete warehouses that fill western economies with cheap plastic shit and flashy tech goods. China, the ultimate population behemoth in history, has been rising fast ever since they ditched Maoism and embraced the idea that Marxism, while a nice idea in theory, doesn't work because of a fundamental law in evolutionary science:

   We're all greedy self serving assholes and nature seems to like it that way.

   China v Japan isn't going to happen anytime soon. There are many reasons why and all of them involve history. Even a quick scan of Chinese history tells you that the burgeoning new middle class in China (they bought more new cars in 2011 than the US) are casting a harsh eye on their own history and noticing how they've been screwed over by outside forces (white men) since at least the 19th century. Worse still, for western war planners, the Chinese people are angry and they've got money. It's a critical difference from colonial times. Poor natives complaining about life is par for the course when the Euros ran their empires. But when consumers complain these days, and that's what 300 million Chinese are today, consumers; then the whole equation is radically changed.

   Chinese history makes Chinese people very angry.

   And who would blame them? I mean, the 19th century British won a series of Opium Wars against the Chinese where they basically turned a huge segment of the Chinese fighting age population into junkies just so they could pay for sought after Asian goods in smack instead of silver. The demand for Chinese goods in Europe was so high that Euro treasuries were being depleted of precious metals so the colonials instigated the polar reverse of today's drug war. Heroin tastes nice. It makes life better... for a while. It alters human behavior. Seeing this, the British devised a "new plan". Let's let empire commerce dump tonnes of Opium into China, the country we seek to control. It'll render their population useless. Sometimes history gets surreal. Other times, it's hard to think of a modern equivalent outside of an alien invasion. Either way, try finding the awkward truth of a reverse drug war in your average high school history curriculum.

   The Japanese, on the other hand, are experiencing a 21st century existential crisis.

   Their economy is stagnant, electronics can be made cheaply elsewhere (unlike when they were kings of the business in the 70s and 80s), and they've got 1.4 billion people just across the water who hate their guts for the shit they pulled in Nanking in 1937. The aging Japanese population cannot process this. In truth, the Japanese have never come to terms with their actions in WWII, at least not to the satisfaction of the Chinese. The mayor of Tokyo, a neocon Dick Cheney on crack, worships at a tomb where at least twelve Jap generals buried there have been convicted of "war crimes". The Japanese sure have a sketchy record when it comes to their memory of WWII. Whereas the Germans have been dealing with guilt for the past 70 years and attempting to make recompense for it, the Japanese are classic Basil Fawlty about the whole thing and "don't mention the war".

   The Chinese want an apology for Nanking.

   Unfortunately, the Japanese do apologies the same way they do unconditional surrender. 

   That is, you have to detonate more than one nuclear weapon over a major population center before they'll consider the merits of your argument.

   For the rest of us, if the China v Japan conflict ever entered the shooting phase (ostensibly over these shitty Senkaku islands but really because both sides hate each other's guts), so many escalation events present that it'd be hard to see an end that doesn't involve a nuclear exchange. It'd be like India v Pakistan on bath salts. It'd screw the world economy so hard it'd make Israel's bunker busting dream strike on Iran's nuke sites about as interesting to the global public as Bono talking about Africa at a U2 concert.

   That's why China v Japan isn't going to happen anytime soon.

   Because nukes.

   Yeah, I'm one of these crazy fucks who is a big fan of nuclear warheads. Let's face it, the cost benefit analysis since 1945's "Little Boy" airburst over Hiroshima has been positive once you take into account the conventional war alternatives. Nukes are probably the best thing to happen to humanity since penicillin although it's not really a fair comparison because nukes have probably saved more lives. Without nukes, the Red Army would have stormed through the Fulda Gap and turned Western Europe into a mega death zone. Without nukes, there would've been no Cold War and instead a constantly warm endless Orwellian nightmare Eurasia v Americana conflict where war is continuous but never winnable. Nuclear weapons have this habit of cutting through the bullshit by defining the limits of human madness. The idea that "we all get to die" makes nukes the greatest peace keeping weapons ever invented. Sure, penicillin saved a lot of 19th century top hatted sport fuckers from syphilis but Western Europe under Stalin's policies would have wiped out the global economy.

   And that's a lot of dead people. Everywhere.

   Advantage nukes.

   Nukes rule out any immediate China v Japan war because Japan falls under the Pacific hegemony of the US nuclear umbrella. We're still a decade away from the time when the real noose tightens on the world economy (unsustainably high oil prices) and both China and Japan are majorly dependent on seaborne delivery of spice for right now. This makes them nervous. Without an Iraq in your back yard, you tend to seek out every oil deposit you can. Supposedly, the Diaoyu/Senkaku islands have offshore oil and gas deposits and that's when you know things are approaching a crisis point.

   Countries start fighting for the leftover scraps in the barrel.

   Even deep sea short term possible oil deposits are worth disputing. But not worth setting the world on fire for.


   How would this war play out if it did happen?

  Apparently, the US was concerned enough about the saber rattling that they dispatched the USS George Washington carrier group to the South China Sea two weeks ago just to remind all parties to keep their shit on the down low. Even though the Japanese navy could handle itself versus China's medium tech surface fleet and its as yet not ready for primetime second hand Russian carrier, that doesn't mean we can laugh at the Chinese Navy.

   We're talking, at least at the outset, a very interesting naval war not seen in the Pacific since Midway.

   Right now I see a rerun of the 1982 Falklands War with one side landing a token troop contingent on an island and declaring an exclusion zone (200km) around it while the UN shits major bricks and scrambles emergency sessions to prevent WWIII. Meanwhile, the naval blockade could be challenged because forum warriors are screaming for blood in both countries. It's funny how civilians ramp up fast to high level assholes once the shooting starts and then ramp down to cowering failures once the local 7-11 runs out of Tootsie Rolls. War works that way throughout time. It's a combination of trading self worth versus self preservation and sometimes it;s hard to predict a winner because people are prepared to die for stupid shit. Either way, the US dispatches three more carrier groups to the South China Sea to try to contain the new internet sensation: Cuban Missile Crisis Part II: Revenge of the Radiation.

   Sure, this is all hypothetical as hell but nobody can deny this war is "fun" to think about.

   Even though Japan might be superior in surface vessel tech the Chinese wouldn't be out of the battle by any account. Their sub surface fleet of diesel submarines is large. Sure, you might giggle at the mention of 'diesel' subs (conjuring up images of sweaty WWII Germans running around claustrophobic pipe laden interiors) but don't be so quick to discount the effectiveness of old 20th century piston and battery designs just because advanced nations have gone nuclear on sub fleets. The Soviet K-19 story is an object lesson in how these designs are dodgy even if everybody these days says technicians sleeping in close proximity to a nuclear reactor is about as harmful as licking the door of your microwave oven. Diesel subs still have a hand in the game especially when you consider the continuing stealthiness of modern diesel designs. Just ask the Germans (master sub engineers), Israelis, Australians, or, in this case, the Chinese. The Chinese managed to surface one diesel submarine undetected in the middle of a USN carrier group in exercises off Taiwan in 2006. The Chinese have a lot of these babies ranging from the useless to the effective but modern sonar technology has shown that even the AEGIS system is vulnerable.

   My favorite thing about this whole hypothetical war that won't be happening for at least 20 years is the cold eye it casts on naval power itself. Modern technology means 19th/20th century naval projection is losing its luster in the 21st century. Every admiral worth his salt these days knows naval warfare is a quaint idea left over from hardier times before today's missile technology. Naval warfare is great for force projection versus lower tech nations but for industrialized nation v industrialized nation, missile tech is so sophisticated these days that surface ships are really just large, floating, meat filled shipping containers, easy to hit hold overs from a different century when having a Dreadnought added inches to your nation's penis.

   The Russians and Chinese have expended years of R&D on satellite guided ways to sink USN carriers but that doesn't mean a carrier group off your shore is not force projection. A US carrier group offshore still means you're probably fucked. But force application these days is not just military. Global 'soft' pressure is economic in the post WWII era of nukes.

   These days it's economic war with a smiley face where the plebs glued to the TV watch where the multi national cola company that owns the politicians mixes feel good moments on TV and some irrigation project in Africa into their advertising campaign and suddenly the thirsty people safely far away benefit from you buying the correct sugar water. It's a different kind of warfare these days. It's you versus humanity. You versus everything you're supposed to want. The dream consumertopia amounts to the same thing. Either way, it's a lot of people working their asses off while the elite host parties in Monte Carlo and you're not invited.

   It's like the Roman Empire but with i-Phones.

   But that doesn't make this hypothetical war any less interesting.

   For one thing, Japans's version of the AEGIS cruiser/destroyer system, the Kongo series based on the US Arleigh Burke class, would go up against China's lower tech vessels spamming anti ship missiles and, if their subs can get close enough, torpedoes. Sure, the Chinese Navy is kinda funny with all their reverse engineered stuff, their dodgy stealth fighter but the newer generation Chinese destroyers do have modern radar and missiles from France and Russia. The fun part is how all these missile trading systems would hold up under the classic "fog of war" environment. Sure, in multi country war-games these designs have been billed as effective, intercepting at best X% [classified] of the incoming but all it takes is 1% of the incoming to get through and what happens if it lands in the nuke belly of a carrier?

   For fun, let's say two Japanese cruisers go down to Chinese torps because they strayed into the hypothetical "exclusion zone". It'd be like the General Belgrano incident on steroids. Instantly, the Japanese would be seeking to enact that clause of their mutual defense treaty with the US where the US comes to their aid in return for them not having a nuke arsenal and maintaining a "defensive" army. God, you gotta love us humans and our bullshit. No country on earth has so far gathered their forces under an "Offense Department"which sure must be some kind of divine comedy for the aliens... if they're watching as we squirm around the petri dish.

   There is no such thing as a defensive sub. They are primary attack weapons and the Chinese have a lot of them so yeah, the naval war will be fun. This is the point where the war must die because the next stage is trading missiles at 'military installations'. At this point world trade has shut down, the world is in emergency session and everybody with half a brain is stocking up on canned goods.

   It's a crazy world.

   Full of deceit, stupidity, genius, luck, madness and sometimes a little common sense. For right now, the Senkaku Island dispute stays irrelevant. Because we're not that desperate.




  1. Huzzah! New war tard. There is a God.

  2. the newer generation Chinese destroyers do have modern radar and missiles from France and China.

    Should it be Russia?

  3. Replies
    1. ^This.
      So when this goes loud, where is the best place to be in the world?

    2. That was a really great read.

  4. Dear Wartard:

    as a scholar of Persian Gulf militarism I would love to hear your thoughts/humor on the massive conventional arms buildups taking place between the Saudis and the Iranians. It seems like there is a perfect storm of derp emerging on either side of the straights of Hormuz and very few people appear to be paying attention to it since Israel is involved. As we know: everything in the Middle East is about Israel and nothing else matters, ever.

    1. probably the lines on the map which make everybody in the middle east hate each other will move a little bit. some more lines will be drawn around the best oil deposits, with american corporations mining the oil after weapons miraculously appear in the hands of anybody willing to shoot somebody else over teeny tiny differences in caste, creed, colour or religion... and the oil being sold in USD, of course...

  5. This article, as usual, is full of great zingers but I love "The Japanese do apologies the same way they do unconditional surrender. That is, you have to detonate more than one nuclear weapon over a major population center before they'll consider the merits of your argument."

    More and more often please WT.

  6. Hey, what I see left out in this argument is that (at least in my projection) the US will collapse and turn inward at some point, with a 20 year horizon this becomes really likely since the resources get more scarce to run the US society. My idea still is, in case the current Chinese regime stays more or less intact that they will prop up the US regime in return for the US becoming the junior partner in this relationship. This mode of hegemonial transition (as exemplified by the Britain-US succession around the world wars) is maybe best suited for a world with nukes.

    The US is unsustainable and already embroiled in too much trouble around the world. If I were the Chinese leadership, I'd do all I could to ensnare the US in more and more bullshit in the middle east, to push it as far as possible towards collapse without throwing the baby (i.e. Chinese fatcats assets held in dollars) out with the bathwater.

    When this transition happpens, the US government might have other things to worry about other than Japan, Taiwan or let alone the Senkaku Islands.

  7. surely you mean mayor of Tokyo, not major.

  8. "That is, you have to detonate more than one nuclear weapon over a major population center before they'll consider the merits of your argument."

    a bit questionable that, seeing as supposedly they wanted to surrender for a good while but Truman didn't want to listen as he was hellbent on detonating the bomb(s) to show Stalin who's top dog.

  9. That is not true. After Hiroshima, the Japanese refused to unconditionally surrender.

    Even after Nagasaki, the Japanese military were in favor of fighting to the death, to the complete annihilation of the Japanese people. They saw this as preferable and recommended that course of action to Emperor Hirohito.

    The Emperor announced the decision to unconditionally surrender by radio address to the Japanese people and a sizable proportion of Japanese civilians were against it and saw fighting to the last man the only "honorable" action.

  10. Actually less than 1% of Japanese textbooks "don't mention the war" and the Japanese have apologized dozens of times. I know it's a common stereotype and myth, but I thought you should do some more research on that specific matter instead of perpetuating the myth.

    1. We had a Japanese farmstay traveller come over to our farm in Australia. She was in her 30s. A documentary about the WWII the Pacific came on the TV and she was mortified. She had learnt in school that it was a regional war between China and Japan. None of the darker sides to that war had been covered. We had to slowly walk her through it as she wanted to know everything. It's a single story and there may be more context to it but that's all I know.

    2. It's not a matter of textbooks and reportage of WWII history that makes for cultural responsibility for past actions in WWII.

      It's a matter cultural and historical examination.

      The Germans have acknowledged historical Nazism and fully accepted it as part of their history while examining right wing extremism as a response to economic hardship in the Weimar period. That's the environment that births Hitlers.

      The Japanese have never examined their culture in this way.

      No examination of Nanking, no examination of the Burma death march, their treatment and exploitation of prisoners all across their Pacific acquisitions.

      I don't always agree with WarTard but he's right more often then he is not.

      Calling the Japanese out on their record here is not an unwarranted assertion.

  11. YES! New WarTard!

    My week is fulfilled!

  12. I thought my day would suck;

    Not enough sleep.
    Bad day at the University.
    Nagging girlfriend.
    Sparring buddy too lazy to visit the boxing club.

    And then WT saves my day with a new article! Yay!

  13. Wartard knocks it out of the park every time.

    A perfect blend of humor and information

  14. Great read. Hope you are right about the "yet" bit. New leadership in China is very anti-Japan and the rising political stars (Tokyo Gov. Ishihara, who you mentioned, and Hashimoto from Osaka) have little love for China and probably a bit too much love for home. It is just a matter of who sends ships to the wrong place. Somebody should tell them: you should never stick your destroyer in crazy.

  15. you're back!! and I want to marry you!! Amazing shit, I came in my pants halfway through the headline

  16. I worked for a number of years in the naval tactical and strategic wargaming arena, and it was always an article of doctrine that if two ships go hunting a sub, at most one goes home. Whether they have any success in their hunting is an entirely different question.

    Personally I believe that China is playing a much longer game, here, with the ultimate aim of neutering the US military for good.

    1. Dude, I would be very interested in any links to descriptions to relevant tactics.

      I agree that the chinks are playing for the long term but I think a better way of describing the chink goal is forcing the US to recognize that china can play in both the economic AND military arena and the running dog yankee imperialists can contest one or the other but not both. If the US chooses to back the japs militarily the chinks WILL extract economic concessions.

    2. Dude, I think chinese is the preferred nomenclature.

      - The Panther

    3. The preferred nomenclature is "Asian American".

      Shut the fuck up Donny.

  17. Yess! Always worth the wait.

  18. Fantastic and interesting article as usual, always worth the wait.

  19. Can we pay you to write more often or something man?

  20. You say this is a war that won't happen but don't forget the lesson of Thucydides (or one of them at least). When one side no longer fears the other then they go to war.

  21. > Naval warfare is great for force projection versus lower tech nations but for industrialized nation v industrialized nation, missile tech is so sophisticated these days that surface ships are really just large, floating, meat filled shipping containers, easy to hit hold overs from a different century when having a Dreadnought added inches to your nation's penis.

    I took a beating over on Reddit for arguing exactly this point a few weeks ago. That losing control of one's airspace to an American carrier group is pretty much equivalent to giving them freedom to start bombing cities, and that any modern, industrial, nuclear-armed nation would be willing to go to extreme measures to prevent this from happening. That the Pentagon (probably) knows this (though the Millenium Challenge suggests many are still deeply in denial), which is why the US will never put weapons platforms that it is loathe to lose into a shooting war against anyone who can actually, you know, shoot back.

    During WW2, with a new carrier coming into service every few weeks, it was different. But today, with a decade lead time to build a new one at a cost of $14-20B, nobody wants to be the one who ordered a carrier group to be recycled into a new coral reef habitat.

  22. "It's funny how civilians ramp up fast to high level assholes once the shooting starts and then ramp down to cowering failures once the local 7-11 runs out of Tootsie Rolls. War works that way throughout time. It's a combination of trading self worth versus self preservation and sometimes it;s hard to predict a winner because people are prepared to die for stupid shit. Either way, the US dispatches three more carrier groups to the South China Sea to try to contain the new internet sensation: Cuban Missile Crisis Part II: Revenge of the Radiation."

    This is the greatest thing I've ever read.

    This is humanity summed up in a paragraph.

  23. I'd like to point out that China's sub fleet isn't that effective either. Wired had a pretty good article about how noisy it turns out their subs are, evidently equivalent in noise level to 1970's era Soviet designs. Basically, even our most antiquated attack subs, the 30 year old Los Angeles class, far outperforms even their best.

  24. I'd also like to point out that China has a very long history of being that conquering power, forcing everyone around them to bend to their will. If you don't believe me, a good example was the "Eight Great Campaigns" that was launched against multiple neighbors in the late 18th century. They're mostly unhappy that they finally got a taste of their own medicine and want revenge against us Untermenschen. Contrary to what we've been told not everything is the fault of white people.

  25. This whole blog is like Hunter S Thompson wrote a history book.

  26. Do they have another, or did they rename it?

  27. Pretty amazing really how little ever gets said about the Opium War. By amazing I guess I mean absolutely typical and unsurprising.

  28. I wonder if Israel, Gaza and Egypt will implode in between this and the next post.

  29. Don't forget that Korea also have a bone to pick with Japan. Ignoring past transgressions, there's the Dokdo Islands (a.k.a. Liancourt Rocks or Takeshima).

  30. Wartard i feel sorry for you. Do you feel good that you are spreding hate in the world. China is nice country.

    Do you feel bad?

    1. China is a nice country???

      definitely a troll.

  31. Awesome as always WT - thanks for the great read.

    Your 'hate each others guts" angle was made clear to me recently when in Japan. Friends there, fairly liberal types, amazed me with their casual racism against Chinese and Koreans...if that's the general mindset then there's lots of room for stupid stuff to be done by the powers that be and the general population to be vaguely backing it.
    Here's hoping that 'beacuase nukes' keeps everyone bahaving for the next while eh.

    More please!

  32. In terms of China's issues with Japan the Nanjing Massacre (Rape of Nanjing or "Nanjing Incident" as the Japanese so call it) is a symbol of what the Japanese did to China but is only a fragment of the horrors the Chinese are pissed off about. Read up on Unit 731 where the Japanese did experiments on the Chinese in Manchuria much like those of Dr. Mengele at Auschwitz. Also the occupation of many of the major cities in China such as Beijing and Shanghai doesn't bode well with people who are still alive an remember the occupation. And as much of the crap done to the Chinese was also racially motivated with the Japanese seeing the Chinese as an inferior culture/race, the hatred the Chinese have is more than just a single event but many. If you look through both countries histories though, they both have always had a superiority complex with each other. This time now though China is doing better and I like what you said about Japan being in denial about their economy and their place in the world because it is true. Mind you they saw both Chinese and Koreans as backwards "mongrels" they were going to make subservient to them during the mid-20th century and now about half a century the "mongrels" are now in a place of both economic and military power.

  33. Dude, great piece.
    One question, you mentioned the impact of increasing missile warfare diminishing the role of naval superiority. However, what about the fact that missile defense technology has increased at a much faster rate than missiles themselves? Isn't that why the USN R&D is literally throwing money at General Electric for rail-gun tech? Secondly, missiles are fucking expensive as shit, a tomahawk launched and booming puts you at a negative million USD. They're great for comparing dick sizes during tests, and launching into Iraq, but in a full scale war, I think hard naval power would have a much larger role than anticipated.

  34. The jury is still out on whether "anti missile missiles" actually deliver on the successful interception front. Sure, the Israeli "Iron Dome" and US Patriot batteries recently deployed to Turkey do advertise an impenetrable umbrella but this is most likely bullshit.

    The technology is just not there yet.

    No matter how good your tracking radar and counter missile technology, the WWI artillery paradigm of "overwhelm them with multiple shit" still holds true today when it comes to missile defense.

    Launch everything you've got at the same time and no missile defense system is going to spare you mass civilian casualties or your flag ship making a rendezvous with the sea floor.

  35. WOW !! What a nice site and great shared to fire sprinkler

  36. We are fucked either way with or without this war. Climate changing and it will be like 100 Japan vs China wars on steroids.

  37. This thing could go quickly nuclear if one of Japan's nuclear power plants were to be hit and released another FUFU meltdown.. (successful attacks on nuclear power plants are nuclear first strikes)... Or a US Navy Nuclear carrier was popped and sunk... One pilot or button pusher could change the world forever... This is not war.. This is a possible extermination event..

  38. Hey Wartard any comments on the escalation and the Chinese declaring an 'Air Defence Zone,' over the area? Chinese aren't going to back down and I wouldn't have thought everyone else will back down either

    1. I had an article almost ready for this but then Crimea happened so I switched gears.

      Both articles I plan on posting in the coming weeks.

      Its no fun being a serial procrastinator.

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