China and the Korean War (1950- 1953)
In late 1950, the United Nations Command (UNC) through its forces was pushing into North Korea. The presence of the United States navy in Taiwan and the support provided by the Soviet Union influenced Chinese leadership, through Mao Zedong, to intervene in the Korean War (Chen 118). The decision by Mao Zedong to order China into the Korean War was also aimed at helping a communist nation. Through the Chinese intervention, the North Koreans were able to increase their weaponry and this made China politically and militarily a major enemy of the United Nations Command. The effect of the intervention was to ensure the recovery of the North Korean territory and maintain the reign of Kim II Sung’s communist government (Stueck 93). The main objective of this paper will be to assess the reasons for Chinese involvement in the Korean War and the effects of their involvement.
Reasons for Chinese involvement in the Korean War
The reign of Mao Zedong in China was aimed at establishing and maintaining geopolitical dominance in Southeast Asia. Days before the Korean War in 1950, the People’s Republic of China was relatively young and the Mao administration felt insecure with regard to its domestic sustainability and geopolitical viability (Chen 118). The spirit of communist revolution and Mao’s charismatic leadership saw the presence of US Navy’s Seventh Fleet in Taiwan as a threat to the regional dominance of the Chinese. For Mao, the survival of communist nations in the face of quickly advancing capitalistic forces, led by the United states, and an increasing number of United Nations forces creeping in from Japan and Korean Peninsula were considered some of the major reasons that pushed ill prepared Chinese soldiers into the Korean War (Dikotter 200).
According to information from Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Chinese were against the imperialist America because the latter had openly shown its support to Taiwan’s Chiang Kai-shek, an enemy of the People’s Republic of China. The decision by the American government to send a large fleet into Southeast Asia not only threatened Chinese national interest but also prevented the possible liberation of the Chinese territory of Taiwan (Chen 120).
The prevailing ideologies during this period were also part of the reasons for the Chinese involvement in the Korean War. Inasmuch as scholars may disagree on the factors that finally pushed Mao’s administration into the Korean War, it is agreeable that he had an influential role in the final decision to join the war (Dikotter 201). From his perspective, Mao held the belief that China could successfully fight the United States military. His influence was largely drawn from Confucian and Marxist theories through which he emphasized that the strength of character and moral rectitude of the Chinese Communists was enough mitigation of any technological inferiority that soldiers from the People’s Republic of China would initially face compared to the highly equipped and trained soldiers of the United States (Peters and Li 261). This means that the decision by Mao’s administration to join the war was not based on the analysis of quantitative variables such as the presence of aircraft, the efficiency to the available weaponry and number of tanks. Instead, Mao based his analysis on the possible outcome of the war through qualitative variables such as courage, strength of will and resourcefulness (Dikotter 201). The reasoning exhibited by Mao was highly skewed by Marxist concept of the historical inevitability of the proletariat. From his perspective of one PRC soldier could exhibit the valor of ten capitalistic soldiers, then the forces presented by Mao would, in the long term engage in, effective combat of the well-equipped United States military (Reece 26). Furthermore, his personal desires such as respect on the international platform, cementing his authority in Communist China and the reunification of the Chinese territory also played a contributory role in the involvement of China in the Korean War (Li 239).
The relative appearance of new nuclear bombs on the international platform was also integral to the decision by China, through Mao, to join the war. Despite Stalin’s and Mao’s understanding of the power of nuclear weapons as essential in deterring states from invading each other, the concept of deterrence had not been embraced as a foreign policy concept (Dikotter 202). By the end of the Second World War, Soviet Union was considered a newcomer in ownership of nuclear weapons while China was perceived as a nonplayer in the ownership of nuclear weapons. This meant while the Chinese in 1950 understood the high possibility of United States aggression into its territory, it was not deterred from intervening in the Korean war because of the correct assumption that the United States would refrain from using nuclear weapons against a non-nuclear state that is supported by a nuclear active Soviet Union (Li 240). There was also the perception that the United States would use nuclear weapons on China and that the PRC’s strength of will and the magnitude of the population would ensure defeat of the United States aggression. From the Chinese perspective whether the US would use the nuclear weapons or depend on its conventional strength, China was a vulnerable party to opportunistic invasion of Manchuria by the United States. The need to protect China from the atrocities of such an invasion necessitated the decision by China to join the Korean War (Mitchell 231).
The decision by the Chinese administration to join the Korean War can also be attributed to extreme pressure from Soviet’s Stalin. Stalin argued that China was in a better position to help the Korean population compared to the Soviet Union because of the effect of the Second World War that the country had suffered (Li 241). From his perspective, Stalin asserted that the Soviet Union could not sustain an international warfare. Furthermore, he argued that failure by the Chinese to help the Korean people would mean that the economic recovery of regions such as Northeast China would be considered impossible after the United States establishes its dominance in Southeast Asia. For Stalin, the Chinese would lament on the unfair nature of a war that began without their consent, and a great disadvantage to their plans of reunifying with Taiwan (Dikotter 202).
One of the major determinants of the Chinese entry into the Korean War was a situation of some thousand miles south of Taiwan. Taiwan military was considered a serious impediment to the entrance of PRC into the international platform (Reece 27). The primary goal of Mao’s administration in 1950 was not to support the communist government in North Korea but to ensure dominance over his domestic enemies and gain sufficient control of entire Chinese territories. While Kim II Sung was creating invasion plans with Stalin, Mao was engaged in the development of Taiwan invasion plans in 1950 (Cumings 171).
The decision by the United States to intervene on behalf of South Korea was also considered as one of the reason for Chinese involvement in the Korean War. From the United States perspective, the decision by North Korea to attack South Korea with the support of Moscow was an attempt to implement the communist ideology (Li 63). This was considered a danger to the United States national interests on the international platform. When the U.S ordered air and naval support for South Korea and decided to intervene in the Chinese civil war, through the interposition of its seventh fleet between Taiwan and the Chinese mainland with the objective of neutralizing the military strength of China, the latter perceived itself as threatened (Mitchell 235). The communist party in China considered the actions of the United States as aggression against the Chinese territory. This led Mao into denouncing American intervention as an exposure into its true imperialistic intentions in Asia. The Chinese government also declared the intervention by the US government an act of aggression on Chinese territory, which was in contravention of the United Nations Charter (Chen 122).
The stability of the communist party regime in North Korea was important to ensure dominance of the Chinese government in Southeast Asia. For the Chinese, the decision to join the war was aimed at North Korea played the role of a buffer zone between Manchuria and South Korea, which was dominated by the United States. Prior to their involvement in the Korean War, the Chinese were to address the question of whether the United Nations Command would cross the 38th parallel (Li 239). This was based on the understanding that if these forces only operated within South Korea then North Korea would have sufficient time to regain its equilibrium and advance its reunification desires. However, the crossing of the 38th parallel meant that failure to intervene in the Korean War could pose more threats to the national security situation in China. From the Chinese perceptive, the United States had broken its promise of not crossing the 38th parallel (Peters and Li 260). This meant that the US government could not be trusted not to cross the Yalu. The realization that the United States was more equipped than the Chinese meant that the Chinese would ensure that their initial surprise attack would have to be efficient through its army of volunteers (Stueck 95). This explained why in late 1950 the Chinese volunteer army was involved in secret movements across the Yalu into the mountain of Noh Korea. The initial attacks by the volunteer army halted the advancement of the United Nations Command. The surprise attacks ensured victories for the Chinese including the Chosin Reservoir where the US marines were almost overwhelmed by the Chinese volunteer army (Li 241).
The operation plan implemented by the Chinese in the Korean War
The top Chinese communist party leaders agreed that the nature of their initial attack in the Korean War would have a major impact on the nature of the morale on the army at war and the Chinese population at home. The strategic plan for the Chinese administration for the war was founded on the understanding that the war might be confined in Korea but its effect would be felt in the Chinese homeland (Cumings 170). The initial operation plan developed by the Chinese government was considered crucial to the subsequent development of the Korean War. In terms of the size of the force, Mao while taking the advice of Stalin deployed only six divisions. This was based on the understanding that a larger army would provoke the United States into escalating the war in terms of the strength and the nature of weapons to be used (Li 64). Chinese administration in an attempt to realize numerical superiority during the war deployed all its six-army divisions into Korea. The decision by the Chinese administration in the war was based on the realization that only immediate intervention would protect the reunification efforts of North Korea (Li 241).
The Chinese government was also engaged in secret force deployment. This was based on the understanding that the use of surprise would be crucial in claiming initial victory. Despite the ability of the American military to conduct reconnaissance, its complacency and arrogance prevented the development of objective analysis into the nature of Chinese involvement (Mitchell 238). American miscalculation of the Chinese intentions and the effectively disguised Chinese force deployment were considered crucial contributors to the country’s engagement in Korean War. Mao ordered the Chinese military to cross Yalu in darkness and instructed a total news blackout concerning the crossing (Li 63). The Chinese forces were also ordered to avoid major highways as a strategy of delaying detection by their adversaries. The Chinese military achieved the surprise factor considering that the U.S military realized the presence of the Chinese after a large part of its forces had been mauled (Cumings 171).
The Chinese administration also decided to use the offensive approach in the Korean War. Initially Mao had designed a defensive strategy considering that he had instructed his leaders to establish defense lines north of Pyongyang and Wonsan. During this period, Mao had instructed that offensive operations were only considerable after the Soviet equipment armed the Chinese military and taken through training. However, as the United Nations forces were advancing towards Yalu. The Chinese no longer had continuous defense lines (Li 242). Furthermore, the United States heavily relied on armored units and motorized transport, which made it difficult for the army to access the hazardous mountain roads. Not only did the prevailing conditions split the United Nations and the American army, it also provided an ideal opportunity for the Chinese military to engage in offensive operations. Strategy alteration was considered to one of the factors that altered the course of the Korean War. The main aim of the offensive operation by the Chinese was to conceal their strength, deceive the American military, and prepare for fierce battles (Cumings 172).
The prevailing circumstances that led China into the decision of joining the Korean War were not only risky but also uncertain considering the existing history of the Chinese. Despite the risks, the intense relationship between the Mao Zedong’s administration and the American government were more essential in defining the possibility of war. When China decided to enter the Korean War, it was not fully prepared and the consequences seemed uncertain. The primary reason for Chinese entry into the Korean War was due to security concerns. The fear of a growing American military presence in south East Asia coupled by the inevitability of a Sino-American military confrontation led the Chinese into war with the hope of maintaining its communist ideology in North Korea and protecting Chinese national interests.
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