5. Begin a strategy of graduated reciprocity in tension reduction.
At the height of the Cold War, psychologist Charles E. Osgood proposed a strategy of “graduated reciprocity in tensions reduction,” or GRIT. As Walter Clemens puts it, the initiator begins by communicating the following intention to the other side:
“We are embarking on a strategy to reduce tensions. We will make several unilateral initiatives to demonstrate our goodwill. We will give you time to respond in a positive way. If you reciprocate, we will proceed to larger concessions and compromise accords. But unless tension-reducing moves become reciprocal, we will revert to hardline [tit-for-tat].”
Interestingly, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe may have already sent such a first signal in a letter to Chinese authorities, hand-delivered by Japanese envoy and coalition partner, Natsuo Yamaguchi. This was a risky move for Tokyo to make, since it may come under fire domestically as folding early, but it was a demonstration of clear political courage to get out of a downward spiral of conflict. Tokyo, and the world, should now watch for China to reciprocate this goodwill gesture with a concession of its own. In all likelihood, Chinese leaders will be constrained in their ability to further escalate tensions on the heels of such a Japanese good faith outreach effort, since the image of China as a bullying aggressor would quickly reverberate across all of Asia.