Sometimes wars break out by accident

By Joe hung

No one knows for sure who fired a shot near the Marco Polo Bridge in suburban Beijing on the night of July 7, 1937. But that shot started an undeclared war between China and Japan, which became part of World War II after the Japanese sneak attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 8 four years later.

A rifle company of the Japanese garrison in Beijing conducted an exercise that night. The company commander found a soldier was missing, so he led his company to the nearby town of Wanping where he demanded the Chinese garrison to let his troops in to find the missing soldier. The Chinese refused to let them in, and while the two sides were arguing, someone fired the fateful shot. The fighting expanded, but a ceasefire agreement was reached and signed afterward. It was Chiang Kai-shek who decided to fight against the Japanese invasion much later at a Kuomintang conference in Lushan. Incidentally, Japan could legitimately station troops in Beijing in accordance with the Convention of Peking signed in 1900 after an eight-nation allied army had occupied the Chinese capital. In an absurd turn of events, however, the missing soldier was found not in Wanping. It was discovered that he had temporarily gone AWOL to relieve himself. Sometimes wars break out by accident. The escalating tension between Japan and China over the disputed islands of Senkaku or Diaoyu is drawing up a scenario for another war by accident, which no one wants. Despite its saber-rattling, China doesn’t want to fight. Neither does Japan; although the country is now headed by hawkish nationalist Shinzo Abe. Nor does Taiwan, which is a third claimant to what it calls the Diaoyutai Islands. Washington, which has a security treaty with Tokyo, is trying what it can not to get involved in the row over the eight uninhabited islets. But as the Chinese are sending Shannxi Y-8 multi-role cargo planes, intelligence gathering aircraft, J-7 interceptors and J-10 fighters into Japan’s Air Defense Identification Zone over the Senkakus, while Japanese F-15s have to scramble to keep an eye on them, the chances are that an innocent firing of a warning shot may touch off a dogfight that may, like the shot fired near the Marco Polo Bridge, compel the two countries to fight another full-fledged war. While China was sending its maritime surveillance vessels near Diaoyu Island, no skirmish was possible, but Japanese warning shots may easily be mistaken for an attack on the Y-8s and warplanes, whose pilots are most likely to hit back in self-defense. That is the risk Japan now runs after its Defense Minister Itsunon Onodera made it known that Japanese fighter pilots may be ordered to fire warning shots at intruding Chinese aircraft.