Australian National University professor Hugh White, also a former Australian defense official, believes that the recent violation of Japanese airspace by Chinese planes and Japan’s election of a new, nationalist-leaning prime minister are sure signs that the two Asian superpowers are heading to war within the next year. In an opinion piece for the Sydney Morning Herald, White writes that the tensions developing now between the two countries are the among the conditions that have led to war many times in history, even when conflict is in no one’s interest.
Referring to Japan and China’s worst dispute over the mutually claimed Senkaku / Diaoyu Islands, White says that escalating stand offs over something that is overall worthless is usually how wars are started. He adds that without a doubt he United States would be dragged into the conflict to support Japan, and there’s no guarantee the war would be short or simple. The professor defends his point against the idea that such an outcome – the world’s three richest countries, two with nuclear weapons, going to war in this day and age – by pointing out that one should not confuse what wars are started over with what causes them.
White feels that China is attempting to challenge the U.S. and President Barack Obama’s “pivot to Asia,” itself a response to China’s growing power and territorial claims in the region. He believes that the tit-for-tat dispute over the uninhabited islands in the East China Sea is what inevitably leads to someone opening fire.
The Australian mentions some good points, and certainly the thought of armed conflict between China and Japan has crossed everyone’s minds in recent months, but it still seems that economic warfare would be the more likely outcome. With all the examples of financial losses and threats to the economy since violent protests in China broke out in September, including Japanese auto sales dropping by half, the destruction of Japanese companies and property located in China, and the Beijing government briefly banning Japanese media like newspapers and books, the damage to import and export industries would be more than enough to ruin each country’s standing. White’s closing point certainly rings true however, that neither Japan or China would “win” such a conflict, and that it would involve much of the international community. He also rightly points out that the current crisis will not end by itself.