“There was never an open declaration of war between China and Japan,” Ralph Townsend wrote in his “Asia Answers,” of 1936. “That part of the world makes a specialty of undeclared wars.” Little appears to have changed since Townsend’s time, for Beijing yesterday issued an order that outlines permissible “non-war military actions” that will govern the People’s Liberation Army. The order takes effect tomorrow.

The order, which comprises six chapters and 59 articles, is intentionally vague. It references such measures as “responding to and dealing with emergencies,” “safeguarding national sovereignty,” and “maintaining world peace and regional stability.” Short of a declaration of war, it ostensibly expands Communist China’s military mandate while leaving much room for its interpretation –– perhaps too much for comfort.

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