China's emotional ties to North Korea run deep in border city

DANDONG, China (REUTERS) - Peering at graphic pictures of supposed US biological warfare efforts during the 1950-53 Korean War, Mr Zhang Ping tugs on the sleeve of a visiting foreign reporter to complain about the barbarism visited on his compatriots during the conflict.

"Too terrible, those Americans," he mutters, standing at a war museum on the Chinese side of the North Korean border, pointing out the pictures of infected animals and insects which China and North Korea say the United States dropped to poison their enemies.

"We have been together with North Korea for over 60 years.

"They still need our help and we cannot abandon them now," adds the Chinese businessman, offering his own commentary on why North Korea matters so much to China.

The war may have ended more than half a century ago, but its memory lives on and is promoted to millions in China, helping explain the emotional bond that ties China to North Korea's reclusive, bellicose rulers, despite Chinese anger over their nuclear tests.

Looming on a hill over Dandong, a bustling Chinese city on the other side of the Yalu River from North Korea, is the museum to commemorate the "War to Resist US Aggression and Aid Korea".

Popularly known as the "Resistance Museum", laudatory signs heavy on propaganda in both Chinese and English proclaim an everlasting friendship between China and North Korea.

They certainly has the intended effect on Chinese visitors.

"The Americans are too hegemonistic! Too cruel!" said Mr Qian Jingwei, a migrant worker from the poor Chinese province of Henan, visiting on a day off from working on a new cross-border special economic zone with North Korea.

"North Korea are our friends. We were taught this at school and can never forget that," said Mr Qian, whose brother nodded in agreement, having just completed a spin around the complex, complete with battlefield dioramas and old warplanes.

War memories are front and centre in Dandong, with statues in heroic poses of Chinese "volunteers" who fought with the North Koreans lining the city's pleasant waterfront, across from which lie the run-down buildings of North Korea's Sinuiju.

But it is the "Broken Bridge", bombed in half by US aircraft, that is the war's most prominent reminder, sitting in the centre of town next to a "Friendship Bridge" over which much of today's bilateral trade is conducted.

For 27 yuan (S$5.4) a ticket, tourists can walk on the half of the bridge that remains standing and is carefully preserved as a revolutionary monument, to the strains of piped-in revolutionary music.

Talk of cutting off North Korea in punishment for their nuclear tests or sabre rattling sparks heated debate for one group of visitors.

"We have a long history of sacrifice together and so we have to support and help them," said Mr Li Li, whose father fought in the war, standing on the end of what's left of the bridge.

Mr Lao Wang isn't having any of it though, expressing frustration with North Korea, just as some Chinese leaders have.

"They have no respect for our feelings. They want to drag us into a new war," he said. "But we I suppose we have to live with them as you can't choose your neighbours."

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