The remains of 437 Chinese soldiers killed in the Korean War returned home yesterday, more than 60 years after an armistice ended the fighting.
A Chinese plane carrying the caskets arrived in Shenyang in the country’s north, following a handover ceremony at Incheon International Airport in Seoul between the South Korean and Chinese governments.
South Korean Vice Minister of Defense Baek Seung-joo said the gesture was aimed at fostering “an international community full of humanitarianism and trust.”
In the 1950 to 1953 Korean War, China fought on North Korea’s side against UN forces led by the US.
The return of the soldiers’ remains became possible when South Korean President Park Geun-hye offered to send them back during a visit to China in June last year, highlighting warming ties between the former combatants.
Qin Furong, whose father died in the war, said she appreciated the move, although it was unclear if her father’s remains were among those returned because many were still unidentified.
“We relatives feel gratitude that they could return the bodies to our home country, and I’m glad to see the friendliness South Korea shows toward us,” the Chinese woman said.
In Seoul, Zou Ming (鄒銘), an official from the Chinese Ministry of Civil Affairs, thanked South Korea for its “proactive efforts and sincerity.”
For decades, the remains had been buried on a quiet hillside just south of South Korea’s border with North Korea, outside the city of Paju.
In recent years, the burying ground became popular with Chinese tourists visiting Paju.
Beijing has never given a precise number for its Korean War dead, but estimates run as high as 900,000.
While China remains North Korea’s only real ally, it has also established close ties with the South since the two normalized diplomatic relations in 1992.
China has overtaken the US as South Korea’s biggest trading partner, with two-way commerce between the nations reaching US$215 billion in 2012.
The Chinese soldiers’ bodies were returned just ahead of China’s traditional Tomb Sweeping Day, when families remember their dead ancestors.
They are to be reburied in Shenyang.
It was not immediately clear if the Chinese government planned to carry out DNA testing of the remains.
Qin, who did not go to Shenyang yesterday, said she plans to visit the new burial ground in the city on the day of remembrance on Saturday next week.
“Now that they are returned, I will visit the grave on Tomb Sweeping Day every April,” she said.