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26 Oct, 2010 12:10

China marks 60 years since Beijing entered Korean War

China marks 60 years since Beijing entered Korean War

Chinese leaders have met with veterans of the Chinese People's Volunteers (CPV) to commemorate the 60th anniversary of Beijing entering the Korean war of 1950-53. This date has been marked by China since 1951.

The country’s president Hu Jintao said “the Chinese movement 60 years ago was a great and just war for safeguarding peace and resisting aggression” and that “the Chinese people will never forget the friendship – established in battle – with the DPRK's people and army”.

Vice president Xi Jinping – the most likely successor to Hu Jintao – also acknowledged the Soviet Union's government and people who helped the volunteer army.

On October 19th, 1950, Chinese ground forces marched into the war-torn Korean Peninsula. Beijing said it wanted to help Korean friends resist US aggression. But historians agree –Mao Zedong simply feared for national security and by throwing in troops he wanted to protect his own territory. A week later, the Chinese volunteers fought their first battle. Those who survived the initial assault remember how massive the invasion was – thousands of infantry troops attacked US fortifications from all sides.

It was just the case when size mattered. To this day historians are speculating as to how many Chinese servicemen were involved in the year-long operation. But clearly there were enough to suspend the US and South Korean army’s push and all but cripple Washington’s plan to unite Korea by force. Before Beijing entered the fighting, US and Korean troops were on a rampage of successful operations in the North and were planning a victory parade. Surprise attack by the Chinese quickly changed that. The Chinese intervention in the war is described by historians across the Atlantic as the most heartbreaking, as on some occasions the allied troops of the US and South Korea lost 300 times as many soldiers as the Chinese volunteers. Moscow also joined the war, but Joseph Stalin ordered the Red Army to assist the Chinese intrusion. Frankly speaking, it was only about air support. One condition, though – soviet fighter jets could fight American jets no further than 100 kilometers into Korean territory. Nevertheless, the USSR reportedly lost more than 25,000 soldiers in its “light assistance” to the Chinese. Many believe it was the allied involvement of China and the Soviet Union that was crucial to the eventual failure to bring peace to the peninsula.

In the six decades since that war, the world has changed greatly. China’s main ally in that war – the USSR – no longer exists. China itself transformed into one of the most economically strong countries on the planet. But some things remain unchanged after all – the Korean peninsula is still divided by the 38th parallel, with North and South Korea still technically at war. News of possible hostilities between the two make waves in the global media just about every year. And China – despite now being one of Washington’s main trade partners – is still strongly defiant of US foreign policy.

In the US, veterans of the Korean War often refer to themselves as “forgotten”. Maybe because the 1950s fighting on the peninsula somehow dissipated between the heroics of World War II and the controversies of the Vietnam war. But it is a completely different story and a mirrored approach to the events in south-east Asia. The marking of the 60th anniversary of Beijing’s participation in the Korean War is not large-scale in China, it is not an official state holiday. But given that president Hu Jintao labels survivors of the Chinese intervention as “heroes” and plans a trip to Pyongyang next week to mark the date, it seems clear that this part of history is not forgotten in modern-day China. No matter how different it is from the 1950s.

Alexey Yaroshevsky, RT