A simulation of war between Japan and China over the Ryukyu archipelago.
Okinawa is a real strategic headache for China.
Okinawa is effectively an unsinkable aircraft carrier for the Japanese that is just close enough to the central Chinese mainland to do real damage. The US is currently working on fire and forget anti-ship missiles with a 550 mile range. Japan is certainly capable of building and operating similar weapons. In a war with China, Japan could park a few hundred of these missiles in Okinawan caves or bunkers, and shut down key ports like Shanghai and Hangzhou. Japan could also add a large, underground hanger that is large enough to hold most of its air force (similar to the ones Taiwan has built in recent years). Stealthy F35s operating from such a facility could shut down China’s southern ports as well. Even China’s nuclear weapons would be useless against such hardened targets. If a shooting war ever did break out, China would have to plan for a pretty effective naval blockade, and some real economic pain.
In other words, Okinawa gives Japan an implicit veto over Chinese military actions. If Japan ever had to face China without US help, fortifying the Ryukyu Islands would be a very effective way to offset China’s growing military advantage. A militarized Okinawa would also matter if Japan ever entered into a defensive alliance with a country like Vietnam, India or Taiwan. Even if Japan remained neutral, Chinese planners would need to keep valuable air and naval units in reserve for convoy duty in the event that Japan entered the war. Sensors based on these Southern islands could also provide valuable intelligence on Chinese military actions to potential allies. Electronic listening posts, sonar arrays and high frequency back-scatter radars (similar to Australia’s) could keep tabs on military activity in Southern China. For instance, imposing a naval blockade on Taiwan would be almost impossible with Japan tracking the movements of PLAN ships and subs off of Taiwan’s East Coast.
Of course, building up this kind of military capability would take years, and would require a significant increase in Japanese military spending. China has lots of time to react if Japan really did decide to boost Okinawa’s defenses. A preemptive invasion of the Ryukyu Islands would be an awfully tempting option for the Chinese. China has recently voiced support for Okinawan independence. Few Okinawans support independence, but most would prefer to see the Americans leave. If the Chinese give a newly independent and demilitarized Okinawa enough autonomy, a popular, pro-China regime may be able to hold onto the Ryukyu Islands indefinitely. An arrangement similar to Hong Kong’s might suit China quite nicely: China does not need to base troops in Okinawa, it just needs to keep other countries from doing so.
Such a relationship could be especially appealing to the Okinawans if souring relations between Japan and China lead to a trade war that cuts Okinawa off from the Chinese economy. Japan has also taken a rightward, nationalist tilt in recent years. Many Japanese politicians would prefer to forget WWII atrocities…such as the murder and starvation of thousands of Okinawans. China’s offer of independence may become more appealing to Okinawans in coming years.
The main takeaway here is that China could invade Okinawa, and it would not necessarily look like the bad guy. With the element of surprise, China has enough aircraft, marines and paratroopers to overwhelm the 27,000 US troops stationed in Okinawa. A puppet Okinawan government could then hand the Americans an eviction notice. There is a decent chance that America would accept, given that the alternative could include nuclear war.
Getting Japan to give up Okinawa could prove much more difficult. The Okinawa War explores what would happen AFTER China captures the Ryukyu Islands.
This game envisions the conflict unfolding as follows:
In a surprise attack, Chinese marines have captured Okinawa. Beijing bet that Japan would not risk a nuclear war over a few islands. Japan, however, was not prepared to give up Okinawa without a fight. Japanese submarines have started to mine the waters around Okinawa. Soon, the Chinese garrison will be cut off from resupply, and will be forced into a humiliating surrender. Tokyo is also secretly preparing to test a nuclear device. China will use all of its military might to stop either of these things from happening.
ISLAND HOPPING – Japan must quickly retake the Ryukyu Islands before Chinese troops can dig in and resupply.
BLOCKADE – Japan must recapture Okinawa or test a nuclear device before a Chinese naval blockade and economic embargo force the Japanese economy into a depression. China only needs anti-war and anti-nuclear parties to come to power in Japan to win.
INVASION – China has coerced South Korea into letting the PLA use Pusan as a base for a ground invasion of Japan. Japan must hold off a Chinese ground invasion long enough to deploy its nuclear arsenal.