Since China declared an "Air Defence Identification Zone" (ADIZ) that covers the disputed islands called Senkaku in Japanese and Diaoyu in Chinese, the media have been full of predictions of confrontation and crisis. Japan immediately scrambled two F-15 fighters to intercept two Chinese aircraft that approached the islands.
"This announcement by the People's Republic of China will not in any way change how the United States conducts military operations in the region," said US Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel, and the US Air Force flew two B-52 bombers from Guam into the ADIZ.
A Pentagon spokesman said Washington "continued to follow our normal procedures, which include not filing flight plans, not radioing ahead and not registering our frequencies".
But forcing incoming aircraft to do just that is the whole point of creating an ADIZ. Aircraft entering the zone must provide a flight plan, maintain two-way radio communications and clearly identify their nationality, said the Chinese Defence Ministry, and aircraft that ignored the rules would be subject to "defensive emergency measures".
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told Japan's parliament that the zone "can invite an unexpected occurrence and it is a very dangerous thing as well".
But Tokyo instructed Japan Airlines and All Nippon Airlines to simply ignore the zone when flying through it.
It is turning into a game of chicken, and the East China Sea is just about the worst place in the world for that kind of foolishness.
China and Japan have been pursuing an increasingly angry dispute over the ownership of the islands. Beijing is looking for a diplomatic victory here, not a war, but it is taking a very big gamble.
Just how does China intend to enforce its new ADIZ? By shooting down a Japan Airlines 787 and a US Air Force B-52? If not that, then how? National pride and the personal reputation of new President Xi Jinping are both seriously committed to this game now, and if the foreigners ignore the zone China cannot just shrug its shoulders and forget about it.
Which brings us to the key question: did Beijing really game out this move before it decided to set the zone up?
When you put yourself in the shoes of a Chinese navy or air force commander trying to enforce the new ADIZ, you can't help feeling sorry for him. He can shoot something down, of course, but even his own government would quail at the possible consequences of that. But if he doesn't compel aircraft to accept China's new rules, he and his political superiors will be open to the charge of failing to defend national sovereignty.
The Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands are not worth a war, or even a single ship or aircraft.
It's quite common in games of chicken to block off your own escape routes from the confrontation, to show that you are not bluffing. And in almost all games of chicken, each side underestimates the other's will to risk disaster rather than accept humiliation.
This could end quite badly.
Gwynne Dyer is an independent journalist whose articles are published in 45 countries.