China buries war dead returned by South Korea

China buries war dead returned by South Korea
South Korean army soldiers wait to carry out caskets containing remains of Chinese soldiers to transport to Incheon International Airport at the temporary columbarium in Paju on March 27, 2014.

BEIJING - China held a grand funeral for more than 400 Chinese soldiers killed fighting in the Korean War more than six decades ago, state media reported, as ties between the former ideological foes steadily improve.

The remains of the 437 soldiers, which were returned by Seoul earlier this year, were laid to rest in the Martyrs' Park in the northeastern city of Shenyang, the official Xinhua news agency said.

A nine-gun salute sounded and more than 800 government officials, veterans and relatives sang the national anthem, it said, with nine coffins draped in the Chinese flag lined up before a commemorative pillar.

"It is comforting to see them back and buried here," Xinhua quoted 85-year-old veteran Lu Shouhu as saying at Wednesday's ceremony.

He once dug a pit to bury a dead comrade on a battlefield, he said, adding: "I wonder if he is among those nameless martyrs." The government-published China Daily put a report of the event on its front page Thursday.

Beijing and Seoul only established diplomatic relations in 1992 as Cold War enmities gave way to booming trade and cooperation, and they sometimes find themselves on the same diplomatic side against Tokyo over historical issues relating to Japan's 20th-century aggression in Asia.

The bodies - which were initially buried in different locations around South Korea until they were united in Paju, just south of the heavily fortified border with the North - were returned in March as a goodwill gesture offered by President Park Geun-Hye during a visit to Beijing in June last year.

China fought alongside the North in the 1950-53 conflict, with its dramatic and crucial intervention coming after US-led forces pushed the Communist army back almost as far as the Chinese border.

The Chinese move enabled Communist forces to drive Western troops back south, and ultimately the armistice line was drawn across the peninsula near the pre-war 38th parallel border.

Casualty figures remain disputed but Western estimates commonly cite a figure of 400,000 Chinese deaths, while Chinese sources mention a toll of about 180,000.

Beijing recognises 197,653 "martyrs" from the conflict, Xinhua said, including workers in the North as well as soldiers.

"This is a salute to the 197,653 heroes," it quoted Wu Jizhang, son of the Chinese People's Volunteer Army's deputy commander Wu Guozhang as saying. "Every Chinese person could gain courage and strength here." 

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