Who owns Okinawa Island, roughly 400 miles south of the main Japanese islands and the largest of the Ryukyu group of volcanic islands that stretches from Japan to Taiwan? That depends on who you ask. To most of the world Okinawa is thoroughly Japanese. But look far enough back in time and the facts are not so clear: Okinawans once paid tribute to Chinese emperors. A number of hawkish Chinese officials with links to the national government have seized on this fact, questioning the Japanese version of history, and are even pushing China to make a formal claim for Okinawa and smaller islands in its vicinity.“I am not saying all former tributary states belong to China, but we can say with certainty that the Ryukyus do not belong to Japan,” the notoriously hawkish Major General Luo Yuan told the state-run China News Service. “Though it may seem far-fetched for China to have any claim over Okinawa, where tens of thousands of Japanese and American troops were killed in World War II and the United States still maintains several military bases, Chinese nationalists have for years pointed out that the ancient Ryukyu Kingdom made tribute payments to imperial China,” reports Jane Perlez for the New York Times.Far-fetched or not, there is a semi-official campaign within China to push Beijing to claim the islands as Chinese. Big spreads on the issue have appeared in government run newspapers. Universities have hosted seminars to discuss the Chinese claim. Generals and scholars with ties to the government have published opinion pieces and argued publicly that Okinawa is Chinese.The reason for this is mostly strategic. Adding Okinawa to the list of territorial disputes between China and Japan builds pressure on Tokyo. And the Ryukyus lie between mainland China and the Pacific: “Zhang Haipeng…said Okinawa was important to China’s ambitions of projecting naval power into the Pacific Ocean, noting that the Ryukyu are at the northern edge of a chain of islands that include Taiwan and part of the Philippines, both of which Beijing regards as American allies alongside Japan,” writes Perlez. Moreover, Okinawans have a grudge against Tokyo for saddling their faraway island with American bases after World War II. When Okinawans protested recently in Tokyo against the heavy American presence on their island, mainland Japanese heckled them and branded them lackeys of Beijing. China could capitalize on the anti-US, anti-Japan sentiment in Okinawa. “Our navy wants to push through the island chains and reach the eastern Pacific,” Mr. Zhang said at a seminar devoted to the Ryukyu issue. “As my wife says, if the Ryukyu were independent, this problem would be solved.”But Okinawa is no uninhabited rock like the Senkakus or the Paracels: 1.3 million people live on the island. About 27,000 US troops are stationed there. Most Japanese, though sometimes disdainful of Okinawan problems, would hardly tolerate the idea of allowing the island to become independent or part of China.The growing chorus of hawks pushing Beijing into claiming or fighting for Okinawa is yet another example of growing nationalism across Asia. This kind of sentiment is pushing national governments from Tokyo to Delhi into increasingly confrontational stances toward one another. Territorial disputes frequently flare up into collisions between fishing boats and police vessels, close calls between surveillance vessels and warships, or troops camping out in foreign territory. And more than just tiny uninhabited rocks and islets are occasions for dispute; if China were to make an unlikely push for Okinawa, the world would see real trouble.