An anti-land mine missile is launched during the annual live-firing exercise by Japan Ground Self-Defense Force at the Higashi Fuji training range in Gotemba last year. Pic: AP.

An anti-land mine missile is launched during the annual live-firing exercise by Japan Ground Self-Defense Force at the Higashi Fuji training range in Gotemba. Pic: AP.

The coming Sino-Japanese War: pick a scenario, writes Asia Sentinel’s Todd Crowell

China’s recent declaration creating an Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) over a large portion of the East China Sea, including the disputed Senkaku/Daioyu islands, has been a feast day in Japan for arm-chair strategists, would-be thriller writers, retired generals and other assorted defense analysts and pundits.

In the wake of China’s declaration, five of Japan’s seven national weekly magazines published articles proposing various scenarios for a new Sino-Japanese War breaking out over the disputed islands. Can a book, or several books on the coming Sino-Japanese War of 2014 be far behind? Besides the weeklies, other pundits have charged in with various scenarios.

The War is Boring website postulates a swirling, high-tech dogfight over the East China Sea, involving Japanese F-15 Eagles, American F-22 Raptors and Chinese fighters. Several Japanese and one American fighter are shot down, but the Chinese lose several more. Round One goes to the Japanese-American team.

Shukan Gendai, a weekly tabloid speculates that war would break out after China’s President Xi Jinping orders that a Japanese civilian jetliner be shot down after declining to identify itself while crossing the Chinese ADIZ on a flight to Japan. Currently, civilian airliners are supposed to file flight plans and respond to inflight directions.

(MORE: Japan new security plan focuses on island dispute)

The Sunday Mainichi, one of Japan’s national newspapers, ran an article with the ominous headline: “Sino-Japanese War to Break Out in January”. It goes on to postulate that a collapsing Chinese economy might persuade China’s autocrats that war against the despised Japanese might take people’s attention away from their trouble.

Many serious military analysts have been sounding off on the strengths and weaknesses of the two- (or three-) sided conflicts. In their collective view, China has the advantage of holding numerous air bases or potential bases relatively close to the prospective battlefield, while Japan has a qualitative edge on its aircraft and naval vessels.

The Japanese air force at the moment maintains only one squadron of 20 F-15s at Naha, the capital and largest city of Okinawa, and aircraft and pilots must be getting worn down through the almost daily scrambles to investigate intruders over the Senkaku air space. They will be reinforced next year by a second squadron of 20 aircraft.

Japan can call on aerial reinforcements from other parts of the country, but they would still be constrained by lack of bases near the combat zone. That weakness would, of course, be easily filled by one or more American aircraft carriers, each of which has about 70 aircraft, should the United States be drawn into the conflict.

And it is likely that the US will be drawn in. Washington’s official position is illogical in that it professes to be neutral about who owns the Senkaku, while at the same time asserting that they, like the rest of Japan, would fall under the protection of the Japan-US Security Treaty that obliges America to defend the country.

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