What started World War 2 in Asia?
World War 2 actually started in Asia almost a decade before it
started in Europe and elsewhere. Ultimately, the war kicked off
when Japan invaded China and French Indochina; when the US tried to
convince Japan to stop, Japan instead attacked the US Navy at Pearl
Harbor, bringing the US into World War 2.
The slightly longer version:
Between about 1865 and 1895, Japan changed from an isolated
feudal state to a modernized major power. Starting in 1895, Japan
started getting involved in international affairs. Japan had beaten
the mighty Russian Empire in 1905, annexed Korea, and began
economic expansion in China. Japan seemed to be the powerful "new
kid on the block", so to speak.
During the same time period, China was recovering from a tough
time they had in the 1800s and early 1900s. China lost several wars
with foreign countries (including Britain and Japan), partial
foreign occupation, and popular revolts against their imperial
government, the Qing dynasty. In 1912, the last Qing Emperor was
overthrown in a revolution, but the newly established Chinese
Republic was very weak. There was a central government, but large
portions of the country were actually under the control of
warlords, many of whom had served as generals under the old
imperial government. Japan tried to take advantage of the chaos to
begin taking control of parts of China, and played the warlords
against each other to keep China divided and weak.
In 1931, some Japanese soldiers blew up a railway in the city of
Mukden in Manchuria (a region of northeastern China); the railway
was owned by a Japanese company. They wanted to make it seem like
Chinese rebels were trying to sabotage Japanese interests. Japan
then used the "bombing" as a reason to invade- they invaded and
conquered Manchuria in just a few months. Manchuria was made into
an independent country called "Manchukuo"- but Manchukuo was
actually totally under the control of Japan. Over the next few
years, Japan would occasionally fight some of the warlords, but
otherwise, things were relatively peaceful.
In 1937, Japan and China wound up fighting again. Long story
short, Japan was using their soldiers to guard their railways and
businesses in China. One day, some Japanese soldiers got into a
small battle with some Chinese soldiers at a bridge near Beijing.
Japan used this as a reason to invade China again. This began the
so-called "Second Sino-Japanese War", and Japan launched a
full-scale invasion of China itself.
The Sino-Japanese War led to the escalation of the war. Notably,
the US and the UK both opposed the Japanese invasion. When World
War II began in Europe in 1939, Japan took advantage of France, the
Netherlands, and the UK being distracted by Germany to seize
colonies belonging to those countries. Japan notably invaded and
conquered French Indochina (modern Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia),
despite international condemnation of it.
It was the negotiations between the US and Japan that ultimately
led the Japanese to attack the US at Pearl Harbor. The US tried to
convince Japan to stop attacking and occupying China and Indochina;
Japan refused. The US then put embargoes against Japan, cutting off
their oil and other supplies, which just made them angry. The
embargoes convinced Japan that they would soon be at war with the
US too. So Japan decided to launch an overwhelming attack on the
powerful US Navy to try to cause enough damage to prevent the US
from getting involved in the war.
On December 7, 1941, the Japanese ended the negotiations and
launched a huge attack on the American fleet stationed at Pearl
Harbor, Hawaii. The attack dealt significant damage to the US Navy,
including sinking four battleships. However, the attack failed to
cripple the American Navy; notably, it did not damage the American
aircraft carriers, which were not at Hawaii at the time. Also, due
to a delay in translating the official message, Japan's attack
happened before they officially told the US they were declaring
war- so the attack was viewed by Americans as a cowardly sneak
At the same time that the US was attacked at Pearl Harbor, Japan
launched a series of attacks on other countries and colonies across
Asia and the Pacific. Thailand was invaded and quickly surrendered.
Japan also invaded Hong Kong, Singapore, the Philippines, Malaysia,
and Indonesia all in a fairly short time. World War II was
officially started in Asia and the Pacific.