S. Korea returns remains of Chinese soldiers dead in Korean War
The remains of more than 400 Chinese soldiers killed during the Korean War (1950-53) will return home from the Republic of Korea on March 28 for permanent burial at a State cemetery in the Northeastern city of Shenyang, more than 60 years after the armistice agreement was signed bringing a ceasefire to the conflict.
The transfer of the remains highlights the friendly ties between the two former combatants and shows that they are looking to the future without harboring grudges against each other. It is an act based on humanitarian grounds that transcends the wartime friend-or-foe division.
The ROK built the "cemetery for enemies" in the border city of Paju in 1996 as a final resting place for fallen soldiers from the Democratic People's Republic of Korea and China. The offer to return the remains was first made by ROK President Park Geun-hye when she visited China in June last year as a goodwill gesture. The two sides finalized the transfer in December, agreeing to bring the remains of the 437 Chinese soldiers buried at the cemetery back to China before the traditional Tomb Sweeping Day in early April.
In fact, as early as during the presidency of Roh Moo-hyun, during a meeting between the heads of the two countries' militaries, the ROK had already proposed sending back the remains of the Chinese war dead, but China did not make any response then. That Beijing has now accepted Seoul's proposal is strong evidence that ties between the two former antagonists are warming.
Today, the two countries share a common understanding of history especially when it comes to territorial disputes with Japan, the "comfort women" issue and the wartime forced labor compensation suits.
This first repatriation of Chinese remains is a small number given that hundreds of thousands of Chinese troops are thought to have died in the war, but the further excavation and repatriation of remains will continue to substantiate the strategic cooperative partnership between the two neighbors in the long run.
The signing of an armistice agreement in 1953 has enabled the ROK to focus on economic development in the ensuing decades, and the country has emerged as an economic powerhouse. The armistice agreement, however, is only a ceasefire, no peace treaty has been signed, suggesting that the Korean War has not officially ended. The military tension on the Korean Peninsula persists, and a year ago the North even cut off a phone hotline to the South and declared the armistice invalid.