Beijing Chinese officials have agreed to consider a U.S. request to search military archives that could yield clues to the fate of missing Korean War servicemen possibly held by China, the U.S. Embassy said Tuesday.
Beijing was "optimistic that a way could be found to access the documents," the embassy said in a statement.
China also will help organize local support for U.S. investigations at sites where the remains of U.S. airmen from World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War might be found, it said. The probes should take place next year, it said.
The Chinese military ran prisoner-of-war camps in North Korea after intervening in the war in October 1950 to push U.S.-led United Nations forces back from the Yalu River separating China and North Korea. The Pentagon has said it has information that China took some U.S. POWs into China during the war.
Relatives of missing servicemen welcomed the news of China's decision with wary optimism.
"We're delighted that they're even agreeing to consider it. They have made similar comments in the past but never fulfilled them," said John Zimmerlee, executive director of the Marietta, Ga.-based Korean War POW/MIA Network, whose father was an Air Force navigator on a B-26 shot down over North Korea in 1952.
The Pentagon has unsuccessfully tried for years to convince the Chinese government that its archives could contain important information about some of the 8,100 U.S. servicemen missing after the Korean War.
China repeatedly has denied it has any information about the fate of American GIs.
"This would be big, this would be really big," said Robin Piacine, president of the Coalition of Families of Korean and Cold War POW/MIAs. Her uncle was an army medic who went missing in 1950 when Chinese forces overtook Cho San reservoir.
"This would be a really good boost for morale for our families to know that this actually going to happen," she said.
Last year, the Pentagon identified the remains of Air Force Capt. Troy "Gordie" Cope, of Norfork, Ark., whose jet crashed on Chinese territory in 1952 after being shot down during a dogfight with a Russian flying for North Korea.
It was the first time remains of a U.S. military pilot from the Korean War were recovered on Chinese territory. U.S. officials saw the case as an important step forward in cooperation on MIAs.