Translate page with Google

Story Publication logo June 11, 2023

Site of One of World War II’s Bloodiest Battles Has Become the Center of a 21st Century Power Struggle (Danish)


Collage with images of a female military officer and two protesters holding up anti-war signage.

An investigative series explores how the Chinese government is quietly trying to advance its...

author #1 image author #2 image
Multiple Authors

The tensions on Okinawa are ripe ground for Chinese interference, experts and representatives from the Japanese government argue.

Translated from Danish, this is an excerpt of a report originally published in the newspaper Politiken. To read the original story in full, click here.

The rivalry between China and the U.S. will define the 21st century, and the tropical island of Okinawa lies at the center of contention. Here, many locals perceive the West as hypocritical, and many fear that they once again will be the victims of war. Nightmares of the past still linger in Okinawa, which in World War II was the battleground for the bloodiest fighting in the Pacific. Today, upwards of 55,000 U.S. soldiers and their families and supporting crew are stationed on the island, which retains a key position in the "first island chain" in U.S. military doctrine towards China.

The impact of deployment is felt. Fifteen percent of the main island is occupied by U.S. forces, which, according to local activists, is responsible for mass leakage of dangerous PFAS chemicals into the water systems. Allegations of rape and even murder is another cause for concern among the "anti-base" movement, which during Politiken’s visit to Okinawa staged a major peace walk to protest U.S. presence.

A majority of Okinawans vote for politicians who try to reduce the number of local bases, to little avail. There is even an independence movement, which hopes to leave Japan and reinstate the Ryukyu government of the 19th century.

The tensions on Okinawa are ripe ground for Chinese interference, experts and representatives from the Japanese government argue. They worry that China is conducting influence operations to strengthen and amplify the antibase movement.

Proof of Chinese involvement, however, is scarce, but the allegations alone breed mistrust. With or without malign interference, the Okinawa situation poses a dilemma for U.S. ambitions in the Indo-Pacific. President Joe Biden’s rallying cry is that our world is witnessing a “fight between democracies and autocracies,” where the former must rise to defend its values.

Can that ring true, if the values and needs of a democratic majority in Okinawa are consistently ignored?

Kids play football in the school yard next to Futenma Airbase. Activists allege that the base is the cause of heavy PFAS pollution in the area and have filed complaints to U.S. agencies and the U.N. Image courtesy of Politiken. Japan.

The Osprey—half-plane, half-helicopter—is a key asset for the U.S. military's forward presence on the Okinawa Islands. Ospreys can take off vertically, but have the range of a conventional airplane. Image courtesy of Politiken. Japan.

Thousands of anti-base protesters gathered in a peace walk to protest continued U.S. deployment on Okinawa. Many locals feel their complaints are ignored by the central government in Tokyo and the U.S. Image courtesy of Politiken. Japan.

U.S. Col. Matthew W. Tracy recognizes the frustrations shared among some Okinawa residents, but believes that many locals support the American military presence. He leads the Marines III Marine Expeditionary Force. Image courtesy of Politiken. Japan.


war and conflict reporting


War and Conflict

War and Conflict




Support our work

Your support ensures great journalism and education on underreported and systemic global issues