SEOUL (AFP) - Seoul on Wednesday (March 22) repatriated the remains of 28 Chinese soldiers killed in the Korean War, despite a heated row between the two countries over a US missile defence system.
A row of goosestepping Chinese honour guards received lacquered wooden boxes, each containing one set of remains, from their counterparts during a ceremony at Incheon airport.
Beijing deployed millions of soldiers in the 1950-53 conflict, saving the fledging North from defeat by US-led UN forces and South Korea.
More than 180,000 Chinese soldiers are estimated to have died in the war.
"(We) appreciate the friendship and good will that South Korean people and media have shown regarding the repatriation of Chinese soldiers' remains," Sun Shaocheng, China's vice minister of civil affairs, was quoted as saying at the ceremony by Yonhap news agency.
A total of 569 sets of Chinese remains have been repatriated since the two countries reached an agreement on the issue three years ago, he noted.
The latest transfer came even as Seoul and Beijing are at odds over the deployment of the US Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (Thaad) battery to South Korea, which China sees as compromising its own capabilities.
Beijing has imposed a series of measures seen as economic retaliation, including closures of South Korean-owned stores and a ban on tour groups going to its neighbour.
Seoul and Washington say the system is solely aimed at defending against the North's nuclear and missile threats.
The South's defence ministry acknowledged in a statement that there was "difficulty in South Korea-China relations in the process of resolving the North Korean nuclear and missile issue" but said it went ahead with the repatriation from a "humanitarian perspective".