Would China Launch a “Pearl Harbor-Style” Strike on America?

Whether the Chinese would launch a Pearl Harbor-style attack on America is debatable only by those who never learned from history and refuse to see the events building before their very eyes today. The CCP and PLA make quite clear in the following previous posts their objectives:

War Is Not Far from Us and Is the Midwife of the Chinese Century

China’s Military Threatens America: ‘We Will Hurt You’

China’s leader is telling the People’s Liberation Army to prepare for war

 

“Our military battle preparation appears to aim at Taiwan, but in fact is aimed at the United States, and the preparation is far beyond the scope of attacking aircraft carriers or satellites.”

Chinese Defense Minister Chi Haotian, December 2005.

 

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If Imperial Japan’s past turns out to be a Rising China’s prologue, Beijing could well order a Pearl Harbor-style attack on America, possibly within a decade.  Potential targets range from American aircraft carriers in the Taiwan Strait and bombers on the runways of Okinawa and Guam to the military satellite network serving as the eyes and ears of the U.S. high command.  Even civilian infrastructure like America’s electricity grid may be at risk.

If you believe that prediction to be alarmist, consider these historical parallels with another rising Asian power during the early 20th century.

Imperial Japan claimed much of Asia by “divine right” and saw the region as a strategic source of food, natural resources, and markets. By December 7th, 1941, it occupied large swaths of China and French Indochina; all of Korea and Taiwan; and its highly capable military was primed to drive the British out of Borneo, Burma, Hong Kong, Singapore, and Malaya; the US out of the Philippines; and the Dutch from Indonesia.

Rising China similarly claims great chunks of Asia by “historical right” and likewise sees the resources and markets of Asia as vital to its growth. It already exercises great influence over Burma, Cambodia, and Laos to North Korea even as it subjugates Tibet and zealously asserts its sovereign right to the “renegade province” of Taiwan – one of Asia’s most vibrant democracies and home to more than 20 million people.

Rising China also asserts de jure sovereignty over 80% of the South China Sea – through which more than one third of global trade passes – and even claims the entire Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh as “Southern Tibet.” Perhaps most dangerous, Beijing’s government-controlled press has whipped its populace into a nationalist frenzy over Japanese control of the Senkaku Islands, which China calls the Diaoyu.

As with Imperial Japan, the only force standing in China’s expansionist way is an America committed to democracy, the rule of law, freedom of the seas, and defense of its Asian allies. Beijing’s clear fear is that America will do what it once did to Imperial Japan – impose a punishing naval embargo on its oil imports and global trade.

Given Rising China’s revanchist dreams and U.S. embargo nightmare, it is hardly surprising the People’s Liberation Army is strategically designing its capabilities – so-called “anti-access, area denial” weapons – to push U.S. forces out of the Western Pacific. On this point too, history is likewise instructive.

Imperial Japan’s metamorphosis from an autarkic and backward kingdom to a global trading nation and world power began with the Meiji Restoration in 1860, which centralized the Japanese state even as it opened Japan’s military to an infusion of foreign technology.  As early as 1880, British and French shipyards began to churn out modern Japanese warships for what would become the most powerful fleet in Asia.

Rising China is likewise constructing one of the world’s finest navies with considerable foreign assistance. French diesel engines run many of its ships. German air-independent propulsion systems make Chinese subs some of the most stealthy in the world, and China’s fleet of Australian-designed fast attack catamarans threaten U.S. aircraft carrier strike groups with cruise-missile salvos.

The catalyst for the modernization of China’s navy was its own version of a Meiji restoration, Deng Xiaoping’s opening of the Chinese economy to global trade in 1979. Just as Imperial Japan saw the need to transform its navy from a coastal defense force, Deng’s right hand man Admiral Liu Huaqing saw China’s need to morph from a continental to maritime power.

Today, China has the world’s fastest growing fleet of submarines, its own aircraft carrier, the world’s most diverse missile arsenal and “5th generation” stealth jet fighters – built with stolen American designs – capable in the near-future of challenging for air dominance over Asian waters. Add to this impressive arsenal cyber and space warfare capabilities that pose a significant threat to America’s perennial command of the strategic high ground, and you have all the makings of a superpower challenge to U.S. dominance of the Asia-Pacific region.

In Rising China’s version of anti-access, area denial, it seeks to drive U.S. forces from its forward bases in Asia and out beyond the First and Second Island Chains – and eventually all the way back to Hawaii and Pearl Harbor. To achieve this goal, Rising China even shares an obsessive focus with Imperial Japan on designing weapons explicitly to sink American aircraft carrier strike groups.

The weapon of choice for Imperial Japan was its Long Lance torpedo.  It could be launched from cruisers and destroyers from distances well outside the range of U.S. artillery and competing torpedoes.  For Rising China, its anti-ship ballistic missile – the Chinese openly call it a “carrier killer” – can be fired from over a thousand miles away and hit an American aircraft carrier traveling at speeds of up to 30 knots.

At the geopolitical level, there is even this “axis of evil” parallel: While Imperial Japan and Nazi Germany entered into an uneasy but expedient alliance, there is today a far more comfortable authoritarian bond growing between Xi Jinping’s China and Putin’s Russia.  This Sino-Russian axis will likely be far more dangerous because it unites the massive work force and weapons factories of China with the world’s largest repository of natural resources and Russia’s vaunted air and missile defense systems.

Ultimately, it may be the one big difference between Imperial Japan and Rising China that will turn out to be of the greatest strategic significance. This key difference is rooted in Josef Stalin’s famous dictum “quantity has a quality of its own.”

Full article: Would China Launch a “Pearl Harbor-Style” Strike on America? (The National Interest)

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