I wanted to share some thoughts I've been bouncing around about a US-China war in the western Pacific. I've split them up into three broad topics: What China must do to improve its resilience, what it must do to be successful in warfighting, and what political opportunities are available.
Resilience and hardening
Before any military action is even considered, China must be self-sufficient in three crucial areas: food, energy, and technology. The last is the key to the first two. It is certain that in the timeframe contemplated for this war, China's food production will increase greatly both through the use of agricultural technology and increased efficiency through consolidating small farmholds into large agribusinesses as rural dwellers migrate to the city.
Energy self-sufficiency will come about through electrifying transportation - a process well underway today - and expanding the use of renewable energy, battery storage, and advanced nuclear power in the grid (I will mention under my breath that I expect coal to continue to play an important role in China's grid, sadly). The distributed nature of wind and solar power makes the grid more resilient since these sources of energy are diffuse, meaning they're not vulnerable to localized points of failure as we see in a traditional grid like Ukraine's.
Technological self-sufficiency is almost too obvious to mention, but it must be said that China has to be completely immune to any technological blockade like the one imposed today on semiconductor fabrication equipment. Thankfully, the US is unwittingly helping China to achieve precisely this through rallying all relevant actors in the Chinese economy behind this goal simply out of self-preservation.
There are other areas besides these three but they are of far less importance - for example, although China imports a lot of iron ore today (primarily from Australia), that will stop within the coming two decades as China completes its urbanization - thus greatly reducing demand - and finds alternative, secure suppliers. Lithium might appear to be a critical input that China is substituting for oil, but the dynamics of each is very different - oil is combusted, it's gone once it's used. Lithium remains in the battery and can be reclaimed once the battery's useful life is exhausted.
This is the bare minimum standard for China to meet; however, it is still far from sufficient. It is misleading to think of a war in the western Pacific purely as a high-intensity conflict. There will certainly be a high-intensity phase to the conflict, but it is almost certain that residual US forces not destroyed during this phase - which we must assume to be considerable, especially the submarine force - will mount an attritional war for as long as they are able. It would be foolhardy to assume that the US would accept defeat even after it suffers a grievous blow in the initial phases of a Chinese Pacific campaign. A sound plan must take as given that the US would fight to the last man (or whatever politically correct term the US military substitutes for "man" these days). Accordingly, China must plan to not just defeat forward-stationed US forces decisively, it must also overwhelm whatever survives its onslaught and eliminate all US capacity to wage war in the Pacific.
Given the scope of the problem I outlined above, China needs further hardening to prevail in this war. It must start the war with a positively disgusting military overmatch. It must protect its industrial machine with a nigh impenetrable air and missile defense shield. It must stockpile sufficient materiel throughout the country to replace the inevitable losses it will suffer. It must stockpile the capacity - the tools and production facilities - to produce the most sensitive and critical equipment by building fallback facilities under mountains where even nuclear weapons can't reach them. It must recall the spirit of yesteryear that built the Underground Great Wall to safeguard China's nuclear weapons. Fortunately, China today has a prodigious capacity to build infrastructure that will only grow more preponderant as China advances.
We've discussed what conditions need to be met for China to become resilient. But the strongest shield is useless without the other hand wielding a sword. We here consider what China requires to have sufficient offensive capacity: First, China simply needs more of everything. It has reached a sufficient level of technological sophistication that the relevant question now is whether it has those systems in sufficient quantity. More Type 055 destroyers, more J-20 stealth fighters, more DF-26 IRBMs, more J-16 and H-6X bomb trucks and the bombs and missiles that hang from them, etc. Of particular note is the expansion of China's nuclear force - this is absolutely crucial if a Pacific war is to have any chance of ending in China's favour.
Second, China requires sufficient battlefield awareness that its initial strike is as devastating and complete as possible. China requires more satellites of all kinds, more drones, and more reconnaissance and intelligence-gathering aircraft. It must continue and intensify patrols with these assets and utilize novel AI technologies to synthesize these data and distribute them effectively throughout the PLA. It must intensify joint operations training throughout its military forces. Initiative is the strongest weapon China wields in this war and its effective use can determine the outcome.
Third, China needs novel systems, and in sufficient quantity, to expand the scope of its operations far deeper into the Pacific - H-20 stealth bombers, Type 09-V SSNs, nuclear-powered aircraft carriers, new classes of hypersonic aircraft and weapons, etc.
Fourth, China must correct its deficiencies in nuclear warfighting by enormously expanding both its strategic and tactical nuclear arsenals.
China has understood since antiquity that the battlefield must be shaped before the first shot is fired (or, in antiquity, the first blade is drawn), and politics is the instrument to effect this. As China's power grows and it becomes clearer to all that it's prepared for war, new political opportunities will present themselves. Steadfast US allies will question the chances of their patron prevailing and what the consequences will be for them if it cannot. This will allow China to neutralize countries like Japan and South Korea and factor them out of its calculations. This might require distasteful concessions on China's part, like accepting Japan as a de facto nuclear weapons state and foregoing revenge for its outrages in WWII, but that will be a determination for the politicians of the day to make.
The exception to this is Australia. Unlike every other country in the region with many centuries of experience in dealing with a powerful China, Australia is a foreign graft. It's an outsider with an ignoble history we all know and needn't mention. Given this, it will clutch its Anglo-Saxon patron's skirt tightly enough that its knuckles will burst through its skin. Political suasion is futile and Australia will almost certainly need to be dealt with forcefully.
Incidentally, that's why AUKUS was conceived - because America understands that Japan and Korea can be turned while Australia can't.
China should seek to strengthen its alliances with friendly countries like Russia, North Korea, and Pakistan. Russia's bountiful resources will be crucial to any Chinese war effort, as would its cooperation if not active participation in military operations. North Korea and Pakistan will pin down South Korea and India, respectively, and severely complicate any opportunistic actions they would like to take during a China-US war.
Paradoxically, the best chances for politics to prevail come about when China plans under the assumption that all its political endeavours will fail. Only once it is strong enough to prevail even in the face of maximum hostility from its opponents and total indifference from its partners can it hope to subdue its opponents without fighting and compel its partners to fight by its side.