The Colonel maintains that the United States and its regional allies will go to war with China for much the same reasons that resulted in the War with Japan in the early 1940's.
Rising SunA wave-top summary of Japan's rise in the region, beginning in the last years of the 19th Century, and culminating in the Japanese military offensives begun in December of 1941 is instructive and necessary to understanding the current threat posed to the region by the PRC.
The seeds for the fruit of Japanese imperialism were actually planted by the United States in the middle of the 19th Century, when the U.S. and other Western European powers forced Japan to emerge from nearly three centuries of self-imposed isolationism. The U.S. and Western Europe viewed Japan as fertile ground for new markets and possible colonial expansion. Open contact with the West over the next few decades taught two important lessons to the Japanese--the potential gain from imperialism and colonialism; and the military modernization required to be a player in the region and on the world scene.
Many theories exist to explain the rise of imperialism/colonialism and expansionism in a nation.
Hobson's "Excess Capital" theory can be dismissed as the reason for Japan's expansionism. The was no excess capital available in Japan's largely agrarian economy at the turn of the 19th to 20th Century. In fact, Japan incurred great debt borrowing to finance its military modernization.
Likewise, Lenin's Marxist view of imperialism as the last stage of capitalism prior to proletarian revolt can be dismissed in Japan's case.
Probably the most apt explanation for Japan's expansionism is a rapidly developing nationalism, a national social dynamic manifesting itself in the desire to increase standing (politically and materially) and security relative to other nations. Japan saw the rapacity of Western imperialism and colonialism and adopted similar postures to both increase its standing and to ensure its national survival vis-a-vis the West. The result was expansionist war with Russia culminating in the annexation of Korea and the occupation/colonization of significant portions of the Asian mainland. Western resistance to Japanese expansionism in Asia gave rise to Western efforts to sanction and dissuade Japan's imperialism. Japan responded with pre-emptive war against the U.S. and Britain.
Rising DragonWith the counterproductive era of intentional Maoist social upheaval far behind her, China is today rapidly modernizing and expanding its regionally hegemonistic and internationally relative standing in consonance with a national pride completely understandable in a people who comprise nearly a third of the planet's population. The PRC's economy is growing at one of the fastest clips of any in the world and will, if maintained and supplied with resources, become the world's largest within a generation.
Couple modern Chinese nationalism (on the rapid rise since WWII) with a Hobsonian-satisfying excess of capital (thanks to abundant cheap labor and Western markets hungry for inexpensive goods) and you have all the makings of a rising dragon in the East whose size and reach will easily over-shadow the rising sun of a century ago.
The relatively minor military campaigns we've been involved in since 9/11 can't rightly be called wars. Going toe to toe with China--now that will be a WAR. The war with China will rival, if not greatly eclipse, last century's war with Japan in scope and will be fought for much the same reasons.
In the Colonel's not-so-humble opinion, the flash point for the next War in the Pacific is the region of the South China Sea and further south toward Australia.
In the geopolitical category of "Who'd a thunk it?" the headlines from that region this week are about Vietnam's leaders (with whose predecessors the United States fought a debilitating decade-long limited war) asking for U.S. help against what they view as aggressively expansionist behavior by the PRC. Besides Vietnam, we actually have treaty allies in the region with territorial claims and vital commercial interests (SLOCs, Spratly Islands' oil and fisheries, etc...) in the South China Sea area--Japan, South Korea, Philippines, Indonesia, Singapore, Australia, et.al. The PRC is increasingly viewed in the region as expansionist, in much the same way and for much the same reasons as Japan in the inter-war years.
While consuming all of the political, social, and media oxygen in the room at present, our current limited military actions in the misguided, mismanaged, and misnamed "War on Terrorism" (wars are conducted against nations, not against tactics), is but a sideshow interlude before the main attraction; in much the same way as U.S. military adventurism and interventionism in the inter-war years (1919--1940) was for the main attraction of 1941 to 1945.