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Chinese families still longing for return of Korean War remains
The Korean war was the largest conflict China had ever waged beyond its borders, and most of the soldiers who died in the conflict remain buried in North Korea. Six decades on, bereaved Chinese families are still fighting for their family members' remains to be returned home.

China correspondent Huey Fern Tay reports.
Transcript
JIM MIDDLETON, PRESENTER: The Korean War may have been dubbed the forgotten war by Americans.

In China, it is anything but.

The Korean War was the largest conflict China had ever waged beyond its borders, and one that defined the friendship between Beijing and Pyongyang.

But six decades on, China is facing issues about this turning point in its history.

China correspondent Huey Fern Tay reports from Beijing.

(Footage of cemetary of Paju is shown)

HUEY FERN TAY, REPORTER: There are very few visitors to this cemetery in the South Korean town of Paju. Here, hundreds of North Korean and Chinese soldiers are buried. They died in the Korean War, a conflict that officially ended 60 years ago.

The identities of the fallen remain a mystery.

It's been 24 years since China actively pursued the return of these remains from its bloodiest overseas battle. But now one South Korean hopes some of them will be returned home soon.

Lee Dae soo works for a peace organisation. He travelled to China last year to talk to war veterans and family members who lost loved ones on the battlefield.

LEE DAE-SOO, ASIA PEACE CITIZEN NETWORK (translation): It's very difficult to identify those who are buried here as the bodies have decomposed severely and many of their personal articles that could provide clues in identification have been removed.

HUEY FERN TAY: This isn't the first time bereaved Chinese families have had their hopes raised. In June this year, South Korean president Park Geun hye offered to return the remains of around 360 Chinese soldiers buried in Paju.

China's foreign ministry told the ABC the Chinese government is seriously considering the offer.

LEE DAE-SOO (translation): The people we have interacted with in China so far are civilians who were interested in the matter but they didn't have authority, nor were in a position to make necessary requests to those with the power to take action, namely, the central government and the Communist Party.

(Footage from the Korean War is shown)

HUEY FERN TAY: Most of the soldiers who died in China's bloodiest overseas conflict remain buried in North Korea. That includes Chinese Communist leader Mao Zedong's son. The Chinese say around 25,000 of its soldiers, which they called volunteers, are still missing.

China's Korean War dead are mostly remembered as nameless individuals in war memorials in its northeast.

Chen Zhooxun's father was a Chinese prisoner of war who was send to Taiwan at the end of the conflict. He believes the names of soldiers should be made public in an honour role.

CHEN ZHOOXUN, FAMILY MEMBER OF KOREAN WAR VETERAN (translation): We want to know whether the families of those who died have been taken care of, we also want to know the identities of the fallen, who lost relatives in this war. Where are they?

HUEY FERN TAY: There may simply be too many bodies to locate and bring them back, making the mission a question of practicality.

The United States is still trying to locate the remain of almost 8,000 personnel missing in action since the Korean War.

(Excerpt from American news report is shown)

PRESENTER: The Burma Road was one of their most important targets in the early months of 1942. On the ground, the Japanese were intent on driving north from their newly conquered territory to cut the Burma Road and completely isolate China.

(Excerpt ends)

HUEY FERN TAY: In previous conflicts it's been up to Chinese advocacy groups to locate the remains of the fallen. These organisations were originally founded to care for the nation's war veterans.

David Chang is a researcher in the history of the Chinese prisoners of war.

DAVID CHANG, HONG KONG UNIVERSITY OF SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY: There was some effort to bring back their remains, the fallen soldiers or to refurbish the cemeteries in Burma or India. But still it's purely a grass roots, non governmental movement and is gaining a lot of attention. But but the focus is still just on the World War II veterans who fought in Burma.

HUEY FERN TAY: While it may now be possible to bring home China's missing soldiers some prefer that the formal battleground remains the final resting place for their loves ones, wherever that may be.

CHEN ZHOOXUN (translation): I don't feel there's a need for both governments to go through all that trouble, to incur these expenses unless the Chinese government has a special arrangement, or if they have found the families of these deceased soldiers and these families want the soldiers and the families want the remains to be repatriated.
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