Re­mains re­turn is pos­i­tive sign

China Daily (Canada) - - COMMENT -

The re­mains of more than 400 Chi­nese soldiers killed dur­ing the Kore­anWar (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 Ro­hMoo-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 agree­mentin 1953 has en­abled theROKto fo­cu­soneco­nomic de­vel­op­ment in the en­su­ing decades, andthe coun­try has emerged as an eco­nomic pow­er­house. The ar­mistice agree­ment, how­ever, is only a cease­fire, no­peace treaty has been signed, sug­gest­ing that theKorean War has not of­fi­cially ended. The mil­i­tary ten­sionon­theKore­anPenin­sula per­sists, anda year ago theNortheven cut off aphone­hot­line to the Sout­hand de­clared the ar­mistice in­valid.

Aso­lu­tion to the his­tor­i­cal prob­lems re­quires joint ef­forts from Bei­jing and Seoul to cre­ate an at­mos­phere needed for di­a­logue and con­sul­ta­tion on the peace­ful uni­fi­ca­tion of theKorean Penin­sula, on the premise that the DPRK­must give up its nu­clear weapons. For that pur­pose, theROKneeds to make con­sis­tent ef­forts to work with the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity, and through the trust-build­ing process on the penin­sula, as ad­vo­cated by Park, per­suade theDPRKto give up its nu­clear weapons and hold con­sul­ta­tions with Py­ongyang,

On China’s part, it is time to send a clear mes­sage to the DPRK that it will only iso­late it­self by fur­ther en­dan­ger­ing re­gional peace and sta­bil­ity. China should make greater ef­forts to per­suade the DPRK to give up its nu­clear am­bi­tion within the frame­work of the Six-Party Talks while car­ry­ing out eco­nomic re­form and open­ing up. China and the ROK can also con­vene peace talks among par­tic­i­pat­ing na­tions of the 1953 ar­mistice agree­ment.

Seen in this light, the lat­est repa­tri­a­tion of the re­mains of Chi­nese soldiers does of­fer a chance for Bei­jing and Seoul to deepen their co­op­er­a­tion in fa­cil­i­tat­ing the peace­mak­ing process on the penin­sula, in par­tic­u­lar send­ing a mes­sage to the DPRK and prompt­ing it to re­flect upon its past, present and prospects. It is true that Py­ongyang has not replied to the of­fer the South pre­vi­ously made to re­turn the re­mains of hun­dreds of the North’s soldiers.

How­ever, Seoul can use the trans­fer of the re­mains of Chi­nese soldiers as an op­por­tu­nity to make the of­fer again, in a bid to tie the DPRK to its two neigh­bors.

If this ma­te­ri­al­ized, it will also help off­set the im­pact of the third nu­clear test the North con­ducted a year ago, which has put a se­ri­ous strain on the long­stand­ing Chi­naDPRK re­la­tion­ship.

The repa­tri­a­tion of the re­mains of Chi­nese soldiers may seem to be a small step, but it em­bod­ies great wis­dom in bring­ing China and the ROK closer to­gether, so that the two neigh­bors can strengthen co­op­er­a­tion and press ahead with the peace­mak­ing process on the penin­sula for the greater good of North­east Asia. The au­thor is a guest pro­fes­sor at the School of Fi­nance, Ren­min Univer­sity of China.

LI FENG / CHINA DAILY

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