Sarah Paine is a professor of strategy and policy, US Naval War College. According to Paine, Japan attacked Pearl Harbor, not primarily to break the US oil embargo but as a peripheral military strategy to win its long war in China. That same day (December 7, 1941), Japan also attacked Malaya, Hong Kong, Guam, the Philippines, Wake Island, Midway, Thailand, and Singapore in efforts to cut Western aid to the Chinese Nationalists and to force the Netherlands to supply it with the Dutch East Indies oil essential its waging war in China.
A decade earlier, Japan had begun its war with China by invading Manchuria to (1) protect its large investments from China’s civil war, which had been ongoing since the Qing Dynasty's fall; (2) stem perceived Soviet territorial and ideological expansion; and (3) create an empire sufficient to practice autarky in the face of the Western protectionist response to the Great Depression. Japanese military strategy, however, by destroying Nationalist conventional forces while the Communists organized in rural areas, helped tip the balance to the Communists. Moreover, given Japan’s escalating brutality in the regional and global wars, three generations later its neighbors still harbor deep-seated grievances.
Paine's talk highlighted part of her forthcoming book "The Wars for Asia 1911–1949" (Cambridge University Press, 2012), that focuses on the intractable dilemmas that faced China, Japan, and Russia in the 1920s and 1930s and the wars on Chinese territory that yielded a unified, Communist, and viscerally anti-Japanese China.