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China agrees to share military records with US on servicemen missing since Korean War
China US MIAs SHA10 5575875
Charles A. Ray, the deputy assistant secretary of defense for POW-MIA affairs, gestures to a journalist at a press conference Friday Feb. 29, 2008, in Shanghai, China. The U.S. and China have announced an arrangement for access to sensitive Chinese military records that could give anxious U.S. families information about thousands of loved ones who went missing during the Korean War and other Cold War-era conflicts. - photo by Associated Press
    SHANGHAI, China — A window has opened for families of the 8,100 American servicemen missing since the Korean War, with China agreeing on Friday to allow access to sensitive military records — but only to Chinese researchers at first.
    In another sign of warming U.S.-China military ties, the two countries also agreed to set up a military hot line for communicating in emergencies, a step long sought by the U.S. to build trust and transparency in their relations.
    ‘‘We’re very happy to be able to finally move this forward,’’ said David Sedney, U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for East Asian Security Affairs. The agreement came at the end of annual defense talks between the two nations in Shanghai.
    Progress on the U.S.-China ‘‘defense telephone link’’ had been slow since China committed publicly to it last summer. The line is expected to be operating in a month’s time between U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates and his Chinese counterpart.
    Families of missing servicemen were excited by Friday’s military archives agreement, one the U.S. government has long requested. Chinese troops killed and captured thousands of American troops during the Korean War and managed many of the prisoner of war camps set up in North Korea during the war.
    ‘‘I think this is a fantastic opportunity if the Chinese are serious about divulging all the information to us,’’ said John Zimmerlee, founder of the Korean War POW/MIA Network for families of missing servicemen.
    But representatives of the families, while grateful for the access, are frustrated by the limits on it.
    U.S. officials have said that at least at first, the arrangement will not give American researchers direct access to Chinese records. Instead, Chinese archivists with security clearances acceptable to the People’s Liberation Army will do the document searches and turn over relevant records to U.S. analysts.
    ‘‘It’s not that we don’t currently trust the Chinese, it’s that in the past they’ve been reluctant to share information,’’ Zimmerlee said. He said families also have a hard time getting information out of U.S. archives.
    Details of the arrangement on China’s military records have yet to be worked out, officials from both countries said.
    ‘‘Of course, I would like to have no limits (on access),’’ said Charles A. Ray, the deputy assistant secretary of defense for POW-MIA affairs, who participated in the signing ceremony. ‘‘I understand there will always be limits, and I understand the reasons for the limits.’’
    China has periodically cooperated with the Pentagon on matters related to the search for MIAs, but it has consistently maintained that all POW questions were settled at the end of the war in 1953.
    Declassified U.S. Army records from the 1950s make clear that the United States knew of hundreds of American prisoners in China during the Korean War, closely tracked their movements and feared for their lives.
    For years, Zimmerlee has been piecing together information about his father, a U.S. navigator who left on a night mission and never returned. A farmer in North Korea reported seeing people bail out of the plane and being marched toward prison camps in China by guards that included Chinese soldiers.
    ‘‘Growing up without a father has always been a mystery,’’ said Zimmerlee, who was 2 when his father was reported missing. On the home page of his organization is the last photo of John Henry Zimmerlee, taken days before his last mission.
    ‘‘There’s always been this quest to know the man,’’ Zimmerlee said. ‘‘I’m excited about this opportunity.’’
    In Washington, State Department spokesman Tom Casey told reporters Friday that anything that helps get information for U.S. families with missing loved ones is positive.

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