The Chinese professional suggested that this limited strike could be effected without provoking a broader conflict. The strike would have great symbolic value, demonstrating to China, Japan, and the rest of the world who was boss. But it would not be so egregious a move that it would force America and Japan to respond militarily and thus lead to a major war.

Well, when the Chinese professional finished speaking, there was stunned silence around the table.

The assembled CEOs, investors, executives, and journalists stared quietly at the Chinese professional. Then one of them, a businessman, reached for the microphone.

“Do you realize that this is absolutely crazy?” the businessman asked.

“Do you realize that this is how wars start?”

“Do you realize that those islands are worthless pieces of rock… and you’re seriously suggesting that they’re worth provoking a global military conflict over?”

The Chinese professional said that, yes, he realized that. But then, with conviction that further startled everyone, he said that the islands’ value was symbolic and that their symbolism was extremely important.