The United States military has recently completed two site surveys in China to recover remains from World War II, marking the first such missions in nearly five years.
These surveys underscore a renewed commitment to honoring the legacy of Sino-American military cooperation during the war period. The missions were undertaken by a team from the US Defence POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA), who spent several weeks surveying sites in southern China.
The primary objective was gathering vital information for potential future recovery operations. This endeavor represents the first visit to China by the DPAA since May 2019.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, the recovery operations were momentarily halted due to Beijing’s imposition of border restrictions and lockdown protocols.
Furthermore, the resumption of these activities faced delays, partly attributed to ongoing tensions between the two nations, including disputes surrounding Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan in August 2022.
Efforts to revive military exchanges encountered setbacks when the US intercepted an alleged Chinese spy balloon traversing US airspace in February 2023.
However, the latest surveys coincide with thawing relations between the two nations. This shift was particularly evident following a significant summit between Presidents Joe Biden and Xi Jinping in San Francisco.
Subsequently, there has been a reinstatement of high-level communications between the military establishments of both countries, signifying a positive trajectory in their diplomatic interactions.
Before the San Francisco summit, the military representatives from China and the United States convened via video conference to discuss the search for the remains of American soldiers.
During the meeting, both parties exchanged perspectives on case investigation procedures and explored opportunities for archival cooperation between their respective military institutions.
Meanwhile, Nicholas Burns, the US ambassador to China, reaffirmed his commitment to repatriating fallen servicemen with dignity and respect, underscoring the significance of this mission.
Last week, I toured the Defense Dept facility in Hawaii tasked with recovering POW/MIA remains from past wars. A DOD team just completed two site surveys in China. We are committed to finding our fallen heroes and bringing them home with dignity, honor, and respect. @dodpaa pic.twitter.com/sFFwDeWcud
— Ambassador Nicholas Burns (@USAmbChina) February 1, 2024
Zach Fredman, an associate professor of history at Duke Kunshan University, highlighted the positive implications of locating missing remains, citing closure for families of American soldiers and the commemoration of Sino-American wartime collaboration.
Search Of Remains Of US Soldiers In China
China and the United States are actively engaged in joint efforts to locate and repatriate the remains of American soldiers who served in China during World War II. More than seven decades after the conflict, both nations continue their dedicated pursuit to honor the sacrifices made by these servicemen.
During the 1940s, over 120,000 American military personnel were stationed in China, contributing to the collective efforts against Japan.
Today, the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA), a division of the US Department of Defense, estimates that approximately 690 American service members from that era remain unaccounted for within the borders of modern-day mainland China.
The collaboration between China and the United States in this endeavor has been marked by a history of cooperation, particularly evident in the search for soldiers linked to the “Hump Airlift” operation.
This strategic airlift, initiated in 1942 and lasting until the war’s end, was pivotal in supplying essential materials to China.
Spanning a route from India, across the daunting terrain of the Himalayas, and into Southwest China, the “Hump Airlift” earned its moniker from the aircrews who likened the rolling mountains to the humps of camels.
Despite the inherent dangers, American pilots valiantly transported approximately 650,000 tons of war supplies, with over 1,500 pilots and crew members sacrificing or going missing along the route.
A poignant transfer ceremony in Sichuan province in October 2015 underscored the commitment to honoring these sacrifices. During this ceremony, the Chinese authorities formally transferred the remains of American pilots discovered in Tibet to representatives from the US Department of Defense.
Moreover, in August 2023, China hosted a high-profile commemoration for Joseph Stilwell, an American general who played a significant role in China during World War II.
President Xi Jinping praised Stilwell as “an old friend of China,” highlighting his positive contributions to fostering friendship between the Chinese and American peoples.
In a letter addressed to two former members of the Flying Tigers, a renowned fighter pilot group that provided vital support to China against Japanese forces, President Xi emphasized the shared responsibility of both nations in maintaining global peace, stability, and development.
He stressed the importance of mutual respect, peaceful coexistence, and mutually beneficial cooperation between China and the United States to achieve these goals.