Protesters demonstrate against US military bases on Okinawa. The Japanese government faces opposition to plans to keep US troops on the island. Photo: AP

Second Battle of Okinawa Looms as China’s Naval Ambition Grows

Pacific island is home to 34 US military bases and focus of escalating tension between Japan and China

David Hearst
March 7, 2011

In a whitewashed bunker cut into the limestone of the southern tip of the island of Okinawa, the headquarters of the Imperial Japanese Navy prepared to make its last stand.

In June 1945, in one of the last, blood-soaked spasms of the second world war, a quarter of the civilian population died as US troops stormed the island.

Inside the bunker, imperial army troops pulled the pins of their grenades rather than surrender. One corner of the tunnel is peppered with shrapnel marks. The Japanese script on the wall still carries the defiant message: “American soldier Pigs! We will soon turn the battle around. Then we will reduce your numbers.” It frequently gets lost in translation. “We cover it up when the Americans come round here,” the guide said.

Today the island chain finds itself at the centre of a second battle of Okinawa. The military threat comes from China, intent on securing its sea lanes and pushing back America’s naval power into the Pacific.

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