Remains return is positive sign
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.