- - Thursday, July 18, 2013

China and Pakistan signed an agreement July 5 that will create an “economic corridor” linking northwestern China to the Arabian Sea, according to the official government newspaper China Daily.

The project is “long term,” and will seek to construct highways, rail lines and energy pipelines connecting the city of Kashgar in China’s Xinjiang region to the deep-water Pakistani port of Gwadar, which is operated by a Chinese state-run company. The port is located near the Pakistani-Iranian border overlooking the mouth of the Strait of Hormuz, a key oil transportation sea lane.

Chinese and Pakistani officials at the signing ceremony in Beijing’s Great Hall of the People downplayed the project’s strategic aspects. They stressed the economic benefits the two countries will enjoy.

“Our two countries can closely link China’s Western Development Strategy with Pakistan’s development strategy of reviving its economy,” Chinese Premier Li Keqiang told Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.

Mostly financed and built by Beijing, Gwadar assumes great importance in China’s strategy for bypassing U.S.- and India-dominated waters and points east of the Strait of Hormuz.

This year, the Pakistani government prematurely ended a contract with a Singaporean company that had been managing Gwadar, and transferred management to the Beijing-owned China Overseas Holding Ltd.

“Now that the management of Gwadar has been handed over to China, we expect that Gwadar is ready to become a very important economic hub and an important Arabian Sea port,” Mr. Sharif was quoted in China Daily.

Pakistan is China’s most significant ally in the region. China sells about half of its military hardware exports to Pakistan, including combat aircraft, missile technology and light- to medium-sized arms.

Analysts say that the Chinese-Pakistani joint project will greatly impact the geostrategic outlook of the region.

PARK OFFERS REMAINS

During her visit to China in late June, South Korean President Park Guen-hye surprised her hosts by offering to return the remains of 360 Chinese soldiers killed during the Korean War.

About 1.2 million people were killed during the three-year conflict. Western estimates say that 400,000 Chinese soldiers were killed, but Chinese source put that number at 114,000.

Beijing has stressed the sacrifices of the Chinese in fighting U.S.-led U.N. forces but has not been candid about the actual toll of combat casualties. It also has sought to obscure the fact that there were many Chinese POWs, an admission that would be contrary to the promotion of “proletarian revolutionary heroism.”

Less than one-third of the estimated 22,000 Chinese POWs decided to return to China at the end of the war, and the rest fled the communist country. The majority of prisoners who did return suffered torture and were regarded as symbols of national shame. Many were exiled to the Great Northern Wasteland.

For decades, these returnees were wiped from public awareness and historical memory.

Accounting for and memorializing the Korean War dead in China was only allowed in the 1980s at the local level, as some counties began to publish local histories whereby each village or county was permitted to register fellow villagers killed in Korea as soldiers.

South Korea collected the remains of Chinese soldiers from makeshift mass graves and reburied them in an “Enemy Forces KIA Cemetery” in 1996, hoping to return them to China via the truce village of Panmunjom, which means that any remains slated for return to China must go through North Korea.

Observers say Ms. Park’s move was meant to further isolate Pyongyang by directly negotiating with the Chinese on returning the remains.

It is not clear whether China will accept the offer because the remains of Chinese soldiers killed in Korea still may be considered an unnecessary reminder of a tragic reality the ruling Communist Party would regard as detrimental to the invincible image of the People’s Liberation Army.

Miles Yu’s column appears Fridays. He can be reached at mmilesyu@gmail.com and @Yu_miles.

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