China is going all out in remembrance of its participation against the US in the Korean War, sending a message to Washington that it’s not intimidated by American military might.President Xi Jinping will participate in a ceremony on Friday in Beijing marking the 70th anniversary since its army took up fighting in a conflict China’s government describes as the “War to Resist US Aggression and Aid Korea.” It remains the only time China has gone to war with the US, which was commanding United Nations forces in the 1950-1953 conflict.
State media has prominently featured the runup to 23 October’s event at the Great Hall of the People, including coverage of a visit by Xi earlier this week to a newly opened military museum exhibition. There, he urged the Chinese people to “carry on the fighting spirit and strengthen the fighting capabilities.” PLA Daily published a lengthy commentary that declared “red lines should never be crossed, bottom lines should never be trampled on.” Other publications ran similar articles that emphasized the need for sacrifice.
The display comes as relations between the two world’s largest economies are at their lowest point in decades. From military tensions over Taiwan and the South China Sea, to tit-for-tat retaliation against diplomats and journalists and spats over technology, China wants to be seen as standing up to what it calls US bullying. A rousing celebration of fighting to a standoff with the Americans — which took place in the 1950s when China was much poorer — helps shore up anti-US sentiment and a fighting spirit among Chinese public amid talk of a “new Cold War.”
In North Korea, leader Kim Jong Un sent floral baskets to a cemetery for Chinese soldiers killed in the war, where participants at a ceremony to mark the anniversary “paid silent tribute to the martyrs of the Chinese People’s Volunteers,” the state’s official Korean Central News Agency reported.
In October 1950, Chinese troops crossed the border into North Korea at the Yalu River to fight the US-led UN forces. Beijing says just under 200,000 Chinese died in the Korean War, while some US estimates have put that figure at 900,000. Since the conflict ended with an armistice agreement and not a peace treaty, the Chinese People’s Volunteers who fought on behalf of North Korea are still technically at war with US-led UN forces who fought on behalf of South Korea.
Chinese forces, poorly armed and equipped at the time, would often attack in overwhelming numbers, occasionally causing American machine guns to overheat and break down. That strategy led to enormous casualties on the Chinese side, Pulitzer Prize winning historian David Halberstam wrote in his book about the Korean War titled “The Coldest Winter.”
Sensitivities around the war are running high in China, where earlier this month millions of people took to social media to criticize South Korean K-Pop music group BTS member Kim Nam-joon, known by his stage name RM, for neglecting to talk about China’s role when he mentioned the Korean War at an awards ceremony in New York.
Another message widely promoted on Chinese social media underlined the death toll, saying: “197,653 — the number of martyrs who died in the Korean War. We’ve never forgotten. Please remember this number!”
Some Chinese online have drawn analogies between the Korean War and China’s current battle for self-sufficiency in technology. The Battle of Triangle Hill — a drawn out clash during the war — has been invoked in China’s modern-day tech fight with the US, used to symbolize its determination to make technological breakthroughs after the US hit Huawei Technologies Co. with regulatory restrictions. One film set for an 23 October release touches on China’s contributions in the war and is called “The Sacrifice.” State broadcaster CCTV and provincial television channels have been airing a six-part documentary about the Korean conflict. There’s even an animated series about heroes of the war aimed at Chinese teenagers.