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New era for China-North Korea ties sealed in blood
by Staff Writers
Beijing (AFP) July 23, 2013

Key inter-Korean incidents since end of Korean War
Seoul (AFP) July 23, 2013 - In the 60 years since an armistice was signed ending hostilities in the 1950-53 Korean War, numerous incidents and clashes -- most instigated by North Korea -- have threatened the official ceasefire.

Here are 10 of the most significant incidents, some of which came perilously close to plunging the Korean peninsula back into a full-scale conflict.

January 19, 1967 - North Korean artillery units fire on a South Korean vessel, the Dangpo, patrolling in the Yellow Sea with 70 sailors on board. The ship sinks, killing 39 of the crew.

Jan 21, 1968 - A team of 31 North Korean commandos infiltrates within striking distance of President Park Chung Hee's Blue House office/residence complex, before being intercepted by South Korean security. All but two killed in a series of ensuing gun battles. One survivor reveals their mission was to assassinate Park.

August 18, 1976 - North Korean soldiers attack a work party trying to chop down a tree inside the demilitarised zone (DMZ). Two US army officers are killed in what becomes known as the "axe murder incident".

October 9, 1983 - North Korea bombs a mausoleum in Yangon, Burma, during a visit by South Korean President Chun Doo-hwan. He survives but 21 people, including some government ministers, are killed.

November 29, 1987 - A bomb planted by two North Korean agents on a Korean Air flight explodes over the Andaman Sea, killing all 115 people on board. Both agents try to avoid capture by ingesting cyanide but one is taken alive.

September 1996 - A North Korean submarine on a spying mission runs aground off the eastern South Korean port of Gangneung. Nearly all the 25 crew and infiltrators end up killed after a 45-day manhunt.

June 15, 1999 - South Korean and North Korean naval ships clash off the border island of Yeonpyeong in the Yellow Sea. One North torpedo boat is sunk and three patrol boats badly damaged. North Korean casualties were estimated at around 50.

June 29, 2002 - Another naval clash of Yeonpyeong results in the sinking of a South Korean patrol boat with the loss of six lives.

March 26, 2010 - The South Korean corvette Cheonan sinks near Baengnyong island in the Yellow Sea, killing 46 sailors. An international investigation concludes that it had been torpedoed by a North Korean submarine. Pyongyang denies the charge.

November 23, 2011 - North Korea shells Yeonpyeong island, killing four people -- two marines and two civilians.

Six decades after treating traumatised Chinese soldiers from the battlefields of Korea, psychiatrist Xue Chongcheng remains convinced their sacrifices -- which forged bonds between Beijing and Pyongyang in blood and fire -- were essential.

But the ties are tarnishing under the passage of time and generational change, with China rising to the forefront of global economics and geopolitics while frustration grows with a frequently troublesome nuclear neighbour, say analysts and ordinary Chinese.

China sent hundreds of thousands of soldiers to the Korean peninsula, the infamous "human waves" that turned the tide early in the 1950-53 conflict, sending United Nations forces led by American General Douglas MacArthur retreating southward after they had pushed invading North Korean troops almost back to the Chinese border.

The total number of Chinese deaths remains a point of contention among historians. Western estimates commonly cite a figure of 400,000, while Chinese sources appear to have settled in recent years on a toll of about 180,000.

Whatever the true figure the war, which ended in a truce signed on July 27, 1953, has for decades had a special place in modern Chinese history and identity.

It began less than 12 months after Mao Zedong and the Communist Party finally won China's cataclysmic civil war and established their People's Republic in 1949.

Mao's eldest son, Mao Anying, died fighting on the Korean peninsula and is a symbol of China-North Korea ties, once frequently described as being "as close as lips and teeth".

Xue, a retired psychiatrist who turns 94 in August, vividly recalls the mental condition of the countless soldiers he treated in a hospital in the northeastern Chinese city of Changchun, about 270 kilometres (167 miles) from North Korea, where they were brought from the front for treatment.

"These young people were all volunteers and full of patriotic fervour," the white-haired and bushy-browed Xue told AFP in his apartment in a quiet, leafy compound in Beijing, magnifying glass constantly in hand.

"But repeatedly undergoing the fire of war tested them and they became mentally ill," he said, sitting next to a bookshelf packed with medical texts and dictionaries, some in English.

"They were always in a fighting state of mind. In the hospital ward they would shout out slogans: 'Charge, kill, down with the American imperialists, defend the nation'", he said.

"They urgently wanted to return to the front and join the fight."

Xue, who offers an impromptu rendition of a song about Chinese troops going to fight in the North, emphasises the war's importance for Beijing, saying defeat for Pyongyang would have put China's Communist government in the crosshairs of the United States.

"I think sending soldiers to North Korea was the right choice to defend the nation," he added. "It was a just war."

-- "Ludicrous" --

In China, it is officially known as the "War to Resist US Aggression and Aid Korea". The idea that Beijing was right to defend its Communist ally and protect its own national interests at the time against a threatening and atomic-armed United States remains commonplace.

But patience with Pyongyang and its nuclear sabre-rattling has been showing signs of running out.

China's new President Xi Jinping, born a month before the armistice ending hostilities was signed, issued a rare if indirect public rebuke to North Korea during a speech to visiting international political and business leaders in April.

Xi said there should be no tolerance for those that foster "chaos for selfish gains", wording widely seen at the time as criticising Pyongyang without mentioning it by name.

His comments came during months of provocations by North Korea, including a rocket launch seen as a disguised missile test, an atomic blast and threats of nuclear conflagration, and as the US and South Korea carried out joint war games.

"It's definitely eroding," Adam Cathcart, an expert on China-North Korea relations at Queen's University Belfast, said of support among Chinese for Pyongyang.

At the Military Museum of the Chinese People's Revolution in Beijing last week, visiting truck driver Pan Yude said China paid a high and worthwhile cost to defend its neighbour.

But his attitude hardened when asked about the North Korea of today, describing relations with Pyongyang as merely "so-so" and blaming what he sees as North Korean stubbornness.

"It can't adapt to the trend of world historical development," he said. "Up to now, its people are still going hungry and its leaders are militaristic and aggressive," he added, standing in front of a display of tanks on the museum grounds, including US Sherman and Pershing vehicles captured during the conflict.

"To tell the truth, if Russia and China didn't support it, the country would have quickly ceased to exist."

Cathcart says factors behind the changing attitudes include the passing of the war generation, North Korea's reluctance to publicly acknowledge China's sacrifices, and Chinese authorities giving historians and commentators freer rein to examine past assumptions.

"There's definitely a revision going on within China, whereas North Korea has really stuck to their narrative. And they have really said Kim Il-Sung is the main man, it's really about his genius," he said, referring to the North's founder and grandfather of current leader Kim Jong-Un.

"And the Chinese think that's ludicrous." kgo/slb/dwa


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