For the moment at least, the Ukraine crisis has pushed the possibility of a Chinese attack on Taiwan off the front pages. Nevertheless, on a near daily basis we read of what are presented as increasingly ominous incursions of Chinese aircraft into Taiwan’s Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ). Seldom, however, do we see a map showing the area claimed by Taiwan for its ADIZ. On those rare occasions when the map is shown, even a cursory inspection reveals that more than a third of Taiwan’s ADIZ is actually land incontestably a part of the Chinese mainland. Thus, if China were to completely cease flying into Taiwan’s ADIZ it would have to stop flying over its own sovereign territory. How many nations, of whatever political orientation, are prepared to do that?
The ongoing condemnation of China’s incursions into Taiwan’s ADIZ is only one, relatively small, example of the ongoing bias of the Western press in hyping the possibility of a Chinese invasion of Taiwan. If any good can come out of this it is that, at least in this instance, the issue is out in the open with the possibility of independent verification of the facts. However, when we look back at the long history of US intervention in country after country, often leading to the overthrow of disliked governments no matter how legitimately elected, we find that the US, particularly the CIA, is quite prepared to engage in ‘dirty tricks’ to accomplish its goals. It is one such plot in the making that led to this article being entitled “Pearl Harbor Comes to Taiwan.”
Needless to say, there is no place named ‘Pearl Harbor’ in Taiwan. But Pearl Harbor is much more than a place in that it is still seen in the US as an ironclad justification for going to war, i.e. Japan launched an unprovoked, sneak attack on the US. Simply stated, ‘they’ (the Japanese) shot first! How could anyone oppose going to war with Japan when they were so obviously in the wrong?
It would take us too far afield to engage in a lengthy discussion of the series of economic sanctions the US imposed on Japan in the run-up to the war, culminating in the de facto oil embargo of July 1941. Suffice it to say, these sanctions all contributed to Japan’s determination to attack Pearl Harbor, for there can be no doubt that if any nation dared place an oil embargo on the US it would be considered an act of war and responded to militarily. In fact, as early as 27 January 1941 US ambassador to Japan, Joseph Grew, informed Washington: “There is a lot of talk around town that the Japanese, in case of a break with the United States, are planning to go all out in a surprise mass attack on Pearl Harbor.” On 30 November 1941, the Chief of Naval Operations, Admiral Harold Stark sent the following message to the Commander in Chief of the US Pacific Fleet, Admiral Husband Kimmel: “IF HOSTILITIES CANNOT REPEAT CANNOT BE AVOIDED THE UNITED STATES DESIRES THAT JAPAN COMMIT THE FIRST OVERT ACT.” Additionally, the 30 November 1941 issue of the Honolulu Advertiser ran a banner headline stating, “Japanese May Strike Over Weekend.”
At the very least, these warnings reveal the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor of 7 December 1941 was far from unexpected. Not only that, in the months leading up to the attack, Roosevelt ordered the fleet kept in Hawaii over the strenuous objection of Admiral James O. Richardson who quoted the President as saying, “Sooner or later the Japanese will commit an overt act against the United States and the nation would be willing to enter the war.” This does not change the fact, however, that it was the Japanese who committed the first overt act.
In the aftermath of WW I, US public opinion was strongly opposed to ever again becoming entangled in war in Europe let alone Asia. However, following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, that antiwar sentiment literally disappeared overnight. Many historians, myself included, believe the attack was a purposely laid trap by President Franklin Roosevelt and his administration to make it possible for the US to go to war in order to aid Great Britain, threatened by the Nazis, while, at the same time, preventing Japan from taking over America’s colony of the Philippines as well as endangering other US investments in Asia, especially in China.
While, today, there is broad sympathy in the US for the continuing independence of Taiwan, there is no widespread demand that the US go to war with China on Taiwan’s behalf, especially in the aftermath of America’s failed “forever wars” in Afghanistan and elsewhere. Given this, we shouldn’t be surprised to learn that even now there are forces at work at the highest levels of the US establishment who are looking for a way to ensure, once again, that it is the enemy, i.e. the Chinese this time, who fire the first shot. Their reasoning goes, if ‘innocent’ American service personnel get killed, then the American people will be willing to fight.
Senior fellows, Robert D. Blackwill and Philip D. Zelikow, at the conservative Hoover Institution believe they have found a way to bring this about. In a March 2021 paper entitled “The United States, China, and Taiwan—A Strategy to Prevent War” Blackwill and Zelikow put forth a proposal predicated on their belief that as the US continues to pour weapons into Taiwan, at some point the Chinese side will say enough is enough and either establish a quarantine of additional weapons or even conduct a siege and assault of the island.
Once China has acted, the US should, they assert, “establish a carefully orchestrated military challenge of a PRC quarantine or siege and assault.” The US must not be deterred by Chinese actions. “The coordinated military challenge would be calibrated to present Chinese forces with the choice to either let these military forces through, or shoot down planes and sink ships, in a clash that would kill numbers of Americans or Japanese, or both. The Chinese would thus either initiate a local war (in the quarantine scenario) or widen it by choosing to attack these neutral vessels or aircraft.” (Italics mine)
It is in this proposal that we see the emergence of the ‘Pearl Harbor coming to Taiwan’ scenario, albeit this time it’s the Chinese who are to be maneuvered into ‘firing the first shot’.
Some readers may be surprised by the authors’ inclusion of the Japanese military in their paper, especially in light of the still strong anti-war sentiment held by the Japanese people not to mention their war renouncing constitution. However, Blackwill and Zelikow have taken this into account, writing, “Many Japanese prefer peace and abhor the militarism of the past. But this could change. Outsiders should not underestimate just how fast and how far Japanese society could move, and change, once a consensus has been formed about the need to act. This part of the joint U.S.-Japan campaign plan should develop, in advance, the scale and character of how Japan should prepare to defend itself in the aftermath of a local war.”
Note that Blackwill and Zelikow’s proposal has already received the strong endorsement of both former US Secretary of Defense, Marine General James Mattis, and Navy Admiral James Ellis, former commander of US Strategic Command. While at the moment there is no indication that their proposal has become official US government policy, on 23 December 2021 the Japan Times reported:
The Self-Defense Forces [SDF] and the U.S. military have drawn up a draft joint operation plan that would enable the setup of an attack base along the southwest Nansei island chain in the event of a Taiwan contingency, according to Japanese government sources. . . . Under the draft plan, U.S. Marines will set up a temporary attack base at the initial stage of contingency on the Nansei Islands, a chain stretching southwest from the prefectures of Kagoshima and Okinawa toward Taiwan.
The U.S. military will get support from the SDF to send troops to the islands if a Taiwan contingency appears imminent, the sources said. Such a deployment, however, would make the islands the target of attack by China’s military, putting the lives of residents there at risk.
While this article doesn’t explicitly state the SDF will assist the US in the transportation of weapons to Taiwan, it already anticipates that some island residents will die when China retaliates. During a Taiwan think tank event in early December 2021, former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said any Taiwan contingency would also be an emergency for Japan and for the Japan-US security alliance. This indicates that while the Japanese people may not yet support armed conflict with China, Japan’s conservative politicians are in full agreement with America’s military plans. The last question to be answered concerning this proposal is not so much ‘if’ it will be implemented, but ‘when’?
Brian Victoria, Ph.D., Senior Research Fellow, Oxford Centre for Buddhist Studies