The Escalation of the Japan/China Confrontation: A New Strategic Surprise Emerging?

Are we going to have another Pearl Harbour or 911 type strategic surprise in the near future?

China and Japan continue to play out a potentially dangerous confrontation in the South China Sea.  Watching from the wings are at least the USA, South Korea, Taiwan and the Philippines.  The introduction of a new Chinese air defense identification zone and the confrontation with the USS Cowpens suggests China is, at a minimum, testing its new found strengths by pushing limits and testing boundaries

Most analytical writing so far appears to presume that any escalation would follow a near linear pattern within the four physical domains of conflict  (land, sea, air and space).  Some discussions include a cross domain component including cyber attacks. Even the cyber attack discussions, however, appear trapped by conventional war thinking and are focused on the past.  This is to say that they anticipate attacks on major critical infrastructure such as power grids or hydro dams, such as would normally be carried out by bombers or cruise missiles.  These debates are all informed (or confused) by concepts such as the Air Sea Battle (ASB) and discussions surrounding a potential naval blockade of China.

China’s new found aggressive posture and activities are not solely founded on its ability to put a limited number of aircraft onto a Soviet era aircraft carrier.  China is aware that the 21st Century will see the rise of a different type of economic and social warfare.  They have demonstrated that they are aware that the entire economic and financial systems of the West have been migrated onto an inherently complex and dubiously stable system. This system, the payments and settlements network, has modified the terms of economic warfare from the physical and geographic into the virtual and individual.

If China perceives the need to forestall or frustrate an American supported Japanese operation or if China fears they may lose face, then it is highly probable that they would infiltrate the international payments and settlement systems using malware borne by innocent looking PDF to their recipients (think RSA and G20).  These attacks would cause a loss of confidence in the payments and settlements network. In turn, we would see the affected economies grind to a halt in 24 to 48 hours. How would a US President forcefully respond to such a situation overseas while at the same time a major domestic social unrest situation is starting to unfold at home?

Most in the intelligence community or in the “think tanks” that concern themselves with issue of conflict and war have little to no awareness of the fragility of the international financial system.  It will not be a good thing if they suddenly discover this new form of social and economic warfare as a result of a strategic surprise that will make Pearl Harbor look mild in comparison.


For more on such a conflict, listen to the War on the Rocks podcast The War in your Wallet: The Real Invisible Hand  at:

For more on the China scenario and the payments and settlements system, see the Broken Mirrors paper Welcome To The Front:  Social and Economic Warfare is all about You at:

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