3. Respect red lines.
That means, above all, not firing the first shot. There are some fairly clear red lines: i.e.Chinese paramilitary or military forces landing on the disputed islands; Japanese planes shooting tracer bullets at their opponents; either side wounding or killing another’s serviceperson etc. All of these thresholds, once crossed, invite further destabilizing escalation. It is difficult to conceive of the two sides escalating into a major conflict without an initial provocation like this. Unless the aim of Japan or China is to launch a regional war, which is highly unlikely, then each party should be sensitive to the basic red lines of the other. Since this dangerous cat-and-mouse game is being played in the waters and airspace around and over these disputed isolated islets, it is crucial that civilian crisis managers on each side assert uncontested authority over their military subordinates’ moves. Remember that a projectile that kills accidentally does not look like an accident on the receiving end.