US-CHINA WAR OVER TAIWAN WOULD TURN JAPAN INTO BATTLEFIELD
The Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), a prominent US think tank headquartered in Washington, released a report on January 9, summing up the results of a study it had done entitled The First Battle of the Next War: War-gaming a Chinese Invasion of Taiwan. The study took two years to complete and encompassed 24 simulations.
A special feature of the project is that it was wholly undertaken by military personnel, excluding politicians in order to focus strictly on military factors. Why did the CSIS choose to do this? In multiple war games for a possible US-China war conducted to date by the Department of Defense (DoD), crucial conclusions have always been left ambiguous, with estimations of China and America’s comparative military capabilities being rigidly withheld. One may speculate that the DoD refused to reveal the results because they were not favorable to the US.
David Ochmanek, a senior defense researcher at the RAND Corporation, has no hesitation in saying that American forces “would be totally destroyed” in a war against China or Russia. Michele Flournoy, former Under Secretary of Defense for Policy, states: “The Pentagon’s own war games reportedly show that current force plans would leave the military unable to deter and defeat Chinese aggression in the future.”
In March 2021, US Air Force lieutenant general Samuel Clinton Hinote observed: “More than a decade ago, our war games indicated that the Chinese were doing a good job of investing in military capabilities that would make our preferred model of expeditionary warfare, where we push forces forward and operate out of relatively safe bases and sanctuaries, increasingly difficult.”
DoD war games have reportedly centered on long-term prospects, including an estimation of US and Chinese military capabilities 20 years into the future. No pertinent strategies will emerge from only focusing on the long-term outlook while refusing to publicize intelligence that shows the US in a bad light. In that sense, credit goes to the CSIS for excluding political considerations and fundamentally basing the war games on a strictly military perspective.
The CSIS simulations have presumed a Chinese military offensive against Taiwan with a landing planned for 2026 and are developed on five scenarios—basic, pessimistic, optimistic, very pessimistic, and highly pessimistic. To state the conclusion first, the war games suggest China would fail to win in all of the scenarios.
By China failing to win I mean Chinese troops would not be able to “invade and occupy Taiwan.”
US Bases in Japan Target of Chinese Attack
In the war games, China employs the same pattern of attack under each scenario. During the first hours of hostilities, Chinese forces would strike a devastating blow to the Taiwanese navy and air force by intense bombings. With Chinese troops backed by the powerful Rocket Force of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) encircling Taiwan, tens of thousands of Chinese soldiers would cross the Strait of Taiwan aboard a full fleet of warships and chartered private ships. From the sky, Chinese aircraft would attack Taiwanese troops guarding coastal landing points.
Up to this point, the Chinese forces clearly would have the upper hand. But that would be short-lived, with the Taiwanese army mounting a fierce counterattack, preventing the Chinese soldiers from going ashore. US submarines, bombers, fighters, and attack aircraft would be swiftly deployed by obtaining supply and support from Japan Self-Defense Forces (JSDF), managing to neutralize the Chinese army, air force, and navy in a relatively short span of time. The Chinese military would also launch an attack on US and JSDF bases and US surface ships in Japan, but they would not be able to gain an advantage and Taiwan’s autonomy would be safeguarded.
The report refers to three “conditions for success” Japan, the US, and Taiwan require in fending off China: 1) Taiwanese forces must hold the line; 2) The US must be able to use its bases in Japan for combat operations; and 3) The US must be able to strike the Chinese fleet rapidly and en mass from outside the Chinese defensive zone.
The report has this to say about condition 1): China’s aerial and naval blockade against Taiwan would be so extensive that US forces would not be able to break through. In none of the simulations would US forces succeed in delivering support forces, equipment, or ammunition to Taiwan. In other words, Taiwan would have to fight the war with only the weapons and ammunition initially available. Unlike Ukraine, there are no ground routes allowing a delivery of aid from other nations. This is why it is truly imperative for Taiwan to strengthen its capability to stand on its own.
Taiwan’s stockpile of ammunition would begin to run out in roughly two months, its offensive power reduced to half. In another month, its ammunition would be completely depleted, reducing Taiwan’s artillery units to infantry—an object lesson to Japan.
Condition 2) calls for Japan to be well-prepared for a conflict. On January 12, “2+2” consultations were held in Washington between the foreign and defense ministers of Japan and the US, followed by a summit the next day between Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and President Joe Biden. In its editorial dated January 12, The Wall Street Journal described the summit as “perhaps the most significant diplomatic event of the year.” The journal welcomed “Japan’s defense awakening” and identified Japan as “the linchpin” for countering Chinese offensives across the Indo-Pacific.
The US has welcomed Japan’s pledge to increase its defense outlay to 2% of its GDP in five years. The two nations have agreed to “deepen cooperation” in exploring ways to effectively utilize the counterattack capability Japan declared last month it would acquire. There are high expectations for Japan to play an expanded security role as a US ally and a mature democracy. All the more reason to determine what Japan’s national interests are.
China would most likely attack US bases when launching a war against Taiwan. The timing of the probable Chinese attack would be a little after China launched an invasion of Taiwan—about the time Japanese and American fighters would be expected to congregate to take off to aid Taiwan. The Chinse air force would be able to inflict devastating damage on Japanese and US air forces. Fighters can be destroyed with the greatest ease when they are parked on the ground.
Japan Would be Devastated by Chinese Attack
A Chinese attack would involve Japan in China’s war against Taiwan, leading immediately to a war between Japan and China. In the CSIS simulations, China had an advantage more from bombing US and JSDF bases in Japan than from not bombing them. Given that, the Chinese would most likely attack the bases. That would mean Japan would turn into a battlefield in a war no sane nation wants.
There appears to be only one way for Japan to deal with this situation. Under close cooperation with the US, Japan should demonstrate its counterattack capability is powerful enough to discourage Xi Jinping from attacking Japan—and Taiwan for that matter. To repeat, what Japan needs is sufficient military power and a firm resolve to counterattack that are strong enough to have the Chinese give up their plans to attack Taiwan or Japan.
Condition 3) reflects a desire not only of Japan but the rest of the world’s democracies. But how does the Biden administration feel about it?
The CSIS report concludes that our side would win should China launch an amphibious invasion of Taiwan, but it is painful to realize how high the cost of the “victory” would be. The war games show US and Japan losing dozens of ships, hundreds of aircraft, and tens of thousands of service members. Taiwan’s infrastructure would be mercilessly devastated and its economy destroyed: it would have a difficult time rebuilding. Japan, whose infrastructure would also be destroyed, would see its economy suffer just like Taiwan. Further, high losses would damage the U.S. global position for many years.
The Chinese navy would be in shambles and the core of its amphibius forces broken, with tens of thousands of Chinese soldiers becoming prisoners of war. China’s defeat would surely have a negative impact on the future of the Chinese Communist Party.
Even if events were to progress to this point, it would be expected that the US and China would strive to prevent the conflict from developing into a nuclear war, which would put their own homelands at risk. On the other hand, Japan and Taiwan would be certain to become battlefields. That is why we must make every effort to avoid war.
I wish to stress once again: Japan must absolutely have ample military capability, namely deterrence, powerful enough to change the mindset of Xi Jinping and the rest of the Chinese leadership. The CSIS report suggests that China is bound to attack Japan if it invades Taiwan. That is how not only the CSIS but most American military experts feel the situation over Taiwan would evolve. This being the case, Japan must make the best use of its increased military budget in bolstering its military capability. Fostering a stronger submarine fleet would be one key to effective deterrence. High-quality stealth submarines able to attack and escape without detection would be particularly effective against China. Japan has arrived at a situation where how we spend our defense budget, how we manage our economy—indeed, how we manage everything in the country—must all be considered with the possibility of a war in mind. It is important for all of us to share a common understanding of the harsh geopolitical reality we are faced with.
(Translated from “Renaissance Japan” column no. 1,033 in the January 26, 2023 issue of
The Weekly Shincho)