Who owns these bodies?

Interesting mini article from the Taipei Times a few days back.

WWII graves located

Taiwan’s representative office in Papua New Guinea has located graves that it believes to be those of Republic of China (ROC) soldiers who died in World War II while they were enslaved by the Japanese army on the Pacific island, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said yesterday. Lee Tsung-fen (李宗芬), deputy-head of the ministry’s Department of East Asia and Pacific Affairs, said that local Chinese compatriots said the graves at Rabaul were first discovered by an Australian pilot. It is thought that more than 1,600 ROC soldiers were captured by the Japanese and sent to Papua New Guinea camp during the war. Many of the soldiers reportedly either died in the camp or on the way to it. Lee yesterday said the Ministry of National Defense would send officials to the island to ascertain the identities of those in the graves, adding that the ministry would decide whether to transport the remains back to Taiwan after consulting with the relatives of the men.

The ROC is of course the official name of the government which now runs Taiwan and its accompanying islands, but during WW2 it was one of the two governments competing for mainland China, along with the CCP, while Taiwan was a Japanese colony. Presumably these soldiers were in fact soldiers from the ROC of that time, i.e. NOT Taiwan, were were fighting against Japan and then captured as POWs. Of course, this brings up the question of who should claim these bodies. Is it today’s ROC, i.e. “Taiwan”, or the PRC, i.e. “China”? While similar questions have come up in the past regarding property disputes between the two governments, this case is complicated by the fact that much of the surviving ROC military moved to Taiwan, along with many of their relatives. Should these remains be brought to:

A: Their place of origin (China, NOT Taiwan)

B: The place held by the successor to the military and government that they fought for (Taiwan, NOT China)

C: The location of their closest living relative (could very well be either Taiwan OR China)

5 thoughts on “Who owns these bodies?”

  1. Papua New Guinea has official relations with the PRC, not the ROC, so I think their government would probably have to treat the PRC as the state successor if this is being arranged on a government-to-government level.

    (C) seems to be the most appropriate humanitarian response given the circumstances, and may be what actually happens if this is arranged on a more private level.

  2. Although I think (c) is the most respectful to the families involved, is there some U.N. agency that could act as an intermediary and custodian?

  3. Just by way of comparison, the recent repatriation of American bodies from WWII (see the US Embassy in Port Moresby’s homepage) was done on a direct state-to-state diplomatic level.

    I’m not sure the UN would work since the ROC is not a member.

  4. You will probably find these soldiers have no families in ROC, but they do in PRC. Also, this is big news in PRC Online community, and there is a netizen organised association has been setup to collect money and support to repatriate these soldiers back to their hometown to be buried honourably like heroes, it has already collected over 1 million signatures online and calling the PRC govt to help and support their cause.

  5. Very interesting Graeme. Could you provide a link or two? My Chinese isn’t great but I’d still like to take a look.

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