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China tensions loom as Japan’s Okinawa marks 50 years since US handover

Okinawa, a string of tropical islands off far southwest Japan much closer to Taiwan than Tokyo, suffered massive devastation in World War II. Two months of bloody battles between US and Japanese forces left as many as a third of its people dead. Nearly 30 years of US rule followed.

On May 15, 1972, the islands were finally returned to Japan in what was seen as a hopeful step forward from the war’s painful legacy. But today they still host the majority of US military bases in Japan, a devil’s bargain that has provided jobs but also fed worries about crime and military accidents.

Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, left, visits the US military's Camp Foster in Okinawa on May 15, 2022, the 50th anniversary of the southern island prefecture's reversion to Japan from US rule.
Now, as China grows increasingly assertive in the Pacific region and tensions rise around nearby Taiwan — a self-governed island which Beijing considers its territory despite never having ruled it — Okinawans are concerned that they could once more end up on the front lines, especially after Russia’s invasion…

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