Steven Zaloga has, with his usual eye for detail and thorough, in-depth research, produced a fascinating insight into an all too-often ignored but highly important aspect of the Second World War. The Chi-Ha 97 ( or any other Japanese tank of the period, for that matter ) versus the M4 Sherman was the proportionate equivalent of Shermans versus Panthers in Western Europe --- not a very pleasant way to commit suicide.
There was nothing inherently wrong with Japanese tanks. From a mechanical standpoint, they were generally well-built and reliable, albeit cramped and noisy. They had the advantage of being equipped with diesel engines which provided good range, mobility, reliability and reduced fire risk when hit by enemy fire, as opposed to the gasoline-driven "Tommy-cooker" Sherman which had an unenviable propensity to burn very quickly and easily when penetrated. In terms of armored protection and firepower, however, the Sherman had enormous superiority.
The problem with most Japanese tanks was that they had been conceived primarily in the infantry support role and were therefore not equipped for tank-versus-tank combat, hence the great emphasis on close ambush tactics and dug-in positions. This was hardly the fault of the designers or the tank crews, who had to make do with what they had been given. Japanese tankers certainly did not lack for courage, imagination or tactical initiative.
The real roots of the problem lay in the poor and unimaginative requirements laid down by the Army General Staff, the lack of a continuous and consistent process of armored vehicle development after the mid-1930's that stemmed from this, the emphasis on weighting limited resources toward the Navy and Air Force first, the allocation of remaining resources to other branches of the Army ahead of the armored units, and the sometimes piecemeal deployment of the tanks. When properly used in conjunction with sound armored warfare doctrine, Japanese tanks were highly decisive in many campaigns such as the Battle For Malaya in late 1941 - early 1942 where, in contrast to long-held belief, they showed that tanks could operate effectively in close country against prepared anti-tank defences. There is an incorrect supposition that British and Commonwealth troops in Malaya were universally ill-trained and equipped to deal with tanks. While this might have been true for many units, there were also some properly-equipped units that offered strong organized resistance, such as at the Battle for Jitra in the northern state of Kedah, and the violent engagements at Milestone 61-62 on the main trunk road during the Battle of the Slim River in the state of Selangor. Japanese armor proved itself capable of dealing successfully with the anti-tank opposition in each and every case.