Taiwan Contingency War Game Highlights Japan’s Critical Importance

The Yomiuri Shimbun
U.S. House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, right, and Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen read a statement after their meeting in a show of unity at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in California on April 4.

In 20XX, the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) deploys warships, including aircraft carriers, and fighter jets around Taiwan to blockade the island. Strongly opposed to the United States’ planned arms sales to Taiwan, China tries to prevent the sale by taking military action and ultimately bring Taiwan to its knees. Beijing warns Washington not to intervene and cautions Tokyo that nuclear weapons could be used against Japan if its government allows U.S. forces to use bases in Japan, seeking to stoke fear among the Japanese people and split the United States and Japan.

This was the opening scenario for the war game centered on a Taiwan contingency conducted by the Japan Institute of International Affairs (JIIA) last summer in Tokyo. On the table during the war game was a large map that stretched from the Russian Far East across the Pacific Ocean, including the Philippines and Guam. The participants were divided into two teams, with the United States, Japan and Taiwan on one side and China on the other.

In consideration of the Russian invasion of Ukraine taking place in the real world, the scenario included the factor that reinforcements would come from Europe if the situation in Europe has stabilized, which would work to the advantage of the U.S. and Japan.

While China conducted ballistic missile attacks on U.S. military bases in Japan and Guam during the war game, as well as air attacks on Japanese and Taiwanese cities, both sides attempted to settle the dispute through diplomatic negotiations but failed. Throughout five operations, both the United States and China lost one nuclear submarine each, resulting in extensive damage to their fourth-generation fighter jets and naval forces, as well as to the Japanese Self-Defense Forces.

The war game took place about a month after then U.S. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi visited Taiwan last summer. In response to that visit, China conducted large-scale military exercises that simulated a naval blockade to pressure the island and warn its supporters. More recently, the Chinese military conducted another series of provocative military exercises when Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen met House Speaker Kevin McCarthy during her transit through the United States early this month.

One of the major challenges for Japan highlighted by the JIIA war game was dealing with Chinese information warfare. During the war game, China launched an information warfare campaign against Japan that continued throughout the whole exercise. The Chinese team tried to influence the resolve of Japan, the only nation in the world to have been attacked by atomic bombs by the United States in WWII, by suggesting the use of nuclear weapons to cause social turmoil — the same thing that Russia is doing to Ukraine. In the middle of the exercise, the Chinese team even used a non-strategic nuclear strike on a U.S. military base in Okinawa to demoralize Japan.

Why would China do this? The answer is quite simple. Beijing wants Tokyo to abandon the front lines of the war. If Japan refuses to participate out of fear of Chinese retaliation, the U.S. military will be restricted from using U.S. bases in Japan and its supply routes will be cut off — the United States will be unable to keep up the fight. This means that China wins. Japan’s presence is therefore a lifeline for the United States, and China will inevitably try to split the United States and Japan. To pursue this objective, Beijing is expected to use information warfare to the greatest extent possible.

Beijing’s method for achieving this strategic objective is a combination of information operations and cyber-attacks through “hybrid warfare.” The “Three Warfares,” which makes full use of public opinion warfare, psychological warfare, and legal warfare, has been an official strategy of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and the PLA since 2003. Experts believe that once a Taiwan contingency happens, China would use hybrid warfare through social media and other means to manipulate and dominate the information environment. If calls for a ceasefire among the Japanese public become too strong for the government to resist, Japanese leaders would have to take this into account and Tokyo could be forced to limit its involvement in the contingency or pull out all together.

Japan has only just begun preparing for information warfare. As the National Security Strategy, revised in December 2022, points out: “It is highly likely that hybrid warfare, combining military and non-military means to achieve military objectives such as information warfare which utilizes the spread of disinformation prior to an armed attack, will be conducted in an even more sophisticated form in the time ahead.” In April, the Japanese government announced that the Cabinet Intelligence and Research Office and the Cabinet Public Affairs Office will take the lead in working with relevant ministries and agencies to deal with information warfare. At the same time, the Defense Ministry created the new post of global strategy intelligence officer to investigate and analyze disinformation.

The JIIA war game lasted 10 hours, and there was no resolution when time ran out. The United States was set to be automatically defeated in the exercise if either Taiwan or Japan lost the will to continue fighting, but neither of them abandoned their determination to fight alongside the United States until the very end. “The simulation proved that once a Taiwan contingency happens, it will be extremely difficult to end,” said Tetsuo Kotani, a senior fellow in JIIA and Meikai University professor who planned this tabletop exercise.

Not letting China start such a war must be the key to ensuring that this nightmare scenario never comes to pass. By demonstrating the strength of the Japan-U.S. alliance through enhancing deterrence, Tokyo and Washington can discourage China from using military force. China’s “Three Warfares” is said to be a practical application of Sun Tzu’s philosophy of “subdue the enemy without fighting.” The best way for Japan to win such a war without fighting is to face the reality of the Taiwan Strait and continue proactively enhancing deterrence by preparing for all types of crises.

Political Pulse appears every Saturday.

Yuko Mukai

Mukai is a staff writer in the Political News Department of The Yomiuri Shimbun