Scholars Take Stock of Korean War
Chen Ping

China was compelled to get involved in the Korean War (1950-53) and its decision to send volunteer soldiers there was a justified and correct one, experts participating in a recent seminar concluded.

The seminar, co-sponsored by the People's Liberation Army's (PLA) Academy of Military Sciences and China Daily, was held to mark the 50th anniversary of the War to Resist US Aggression and Aid Korea.

"Chinese people wanted peace after the eight-year War of Resistance Against Japanese Aggression and the three-year civil war, but they had to fight another war because the United States imposed it on them," said Guo Simian, senior consultant at the Beijing-based Development and Peace magazine.

When the Korean War broke out on June 25, 1950, it was a civil war aimed at unifying the artificially divided Korean Peninsula. Yet it was immediately internationalized because of armed intervention by the United States and the so-called "UN forces."

Two days after the outbreak of the war, the USA sent its Seventh Fleet into the Taiwan Straits, which constituted armed aggression in Chinese territory. Despite his statement in early 1950 that Taiwan is a part of China, US president Harry Truman talked about the "uncertain status" of the island.

After the Inchon Landing in Korea on September 15, UN forces crossed the 38th Parallel which divided the Democratic Peoples' Republic of Korea (DPRK) in the North and the Republic of Korea (ROK) in the South. Defying China's repeated warnings, the intruding US troops extended the battlefield to the Chinese border, bombing and strafing frontier cities and villages of Northeast China. China's national security was seriously threatened.

"No matter how unwilling China was to get itself involved, it had no other choice at that time," said Yu Shaohua of the China Institute of International Studies.

"Under such circumstances, any hope to maintain peace with forbearance would have only led to even greater disasters, including losing sovereignty and peace for good," Yu said.

In 1950, the newly-founded People's Republic of China was starting to rebuild the country torn apart by the civil war. A Land Reform Law had been issued in June of that year.

The country had decided to demobilize 1 million of its troops in the hope of reducing military expenditure to buttress its economic recovery program.

The US intervention in Korea and the aggression towards Chinese territory forced Chinese leaders to resort to military means to safeguard endangered national security, according to experts on Chinese military history from the Academy of Military Sciences.

"Before China finally made up its mind, it four times voiced, through various channels and on different occasions, its warnings to the United States that it would not sit idly by if UN forces crossed the 38th Parallel," said Qi Dexue, an academy research fellow. "Unfortunately the Americans did not listen."

To resist US aggression, aid Korea and safeguard their homeland, the Chinese Peoples' Volunteers (CPVs) crossed the Yalu River on October 19, 1950.

The White House could not believe China would send its troops to Korea even after Chinese volunteers had their first encounter with UN troops.

Participating scholars listed several main factors that lead to China's decision to participate in the Korean War.

Firstly, since the Korean Peninsula had become a major area of confrontation between the socialist camp and the capitalist camp, China's relations with the DPRK were not only bilateral in nature, but also had regional and global strategic dimensions.

"China had to stand side by side with the DPRK. The country was not only helping its endangered neighbor, but was also fighting against imperialist aggression that was threatening regional and world peace," said Chu Shulong, senior research fellow with the China Institute of Contemporary International Relations.

"The decision (to enter the war) was made on account of internationalism," said Xu Xianzhong, a senior research fellow with the China Institute for International Strategic Studies.

Secondly, China's security was seriously threatened. The country's heavy industries were concentrated in its northeastern regions, especially areas bordering Korea.

If the United States had succeeded in occupying Korea in 1950, China would have had to face a hostile power along its northeastern border, Chu pointed out.

Thirdly, a US victory on the Korean Peninsula would have been a stimulus to Kuomintang forces in Taiwan who, under the protection of the US Seventh Fleet, would have increased harassment and sabotage on the Chinese mainland. The new People's Republic would have had military threats from two sides: from the US-dominated Korean Peninsula in the North and from Kuomintang-occupied Taiwan in the South.

Fourthly, the DPRK leadership asked the Chinese leaders for military aid, including sending troops to combat the aggressors.

"China would not have sent its troops to Korea if the DPRK had not made the request," noted Qi Dexue, who is the co-author of the newly-published "History of the War to Resist US Aggression and Aid Korea" (which is published in three volumes by the Military Sciences Press, 2000).

"But China was not in Korea to help the DPRK unify the peninsula - Chinese troops were there to aid the DPRK in their fight against US aggression and to safeguard their own country," Qi told the seminar.

Making the Korean Peninsula its beachhead for further expansion and aggression in the Pacific region was one of the strategic motives behind US intervention in the Korean civil war, said Xu Xianzhong.

"What's more, the US wanted to restore its sphere of influence in China by strangling the newly founded People's Republic. At the same time, the USA was trying to show off its overpowering strength to other countries which had just gained independence," Xu said.

Speakers at the seminar agreed that China's participation in the Korea War was a must action and history has proved its success and value.

Politically, it brought China dignity and respect as it had dared to stand up to a big power. Later, China resumed its seat at the United Nations Security Council, the United States had to restrict its military actions south of the 17th Parallel in the Viet Nam War, and Richard Nixon paid a historic visit to China in 1972. All these things were in a sense outcomes influenced by the Korean War.

Economically, it also brought peace and a valuable period of economic development for China.

Militarily, the Chinese army, for the first time, was engaged in large-scale warfare with foreign troops equipped with the most modern and powerful weapons of the time. It won the war and successfully pushed the aggressors back to the 38th Parallel and forced the US commander to sign a treaty to end a war the United States did not win. Throughout the conflict, the Chinese army also gained experiences in fighting a large-scale modern warfare.

"In the long run, it improved China's security," said Professor Yan Xuetong, executive director of the Institute of International Studies at Tsinghua University. "The war made the United States very cautious when it later came to deal with China, especially in military affairs."

Yan's argument was echoed by Chu Shulong.

"The United States has refrained from invading the Chinese mainland since 1950 because the Chinese people gave them a lesson in Korea," Chu said.

"However, it is wrong to assume that China's participation in the Korean War delayed the possible reunification with Taiwan," said Yan.

"Remember that the Seventh Fleet was in the Taiwan Straits before China entered the war and China has not solved the Taiwan question during the decades following the Korean War," said Yan. He argued that Taiwan, "an unsinkable aircraft carrier" in the eyes of some US politicians, became an issue imposed by the United States on China, which has for so long been a major issue in the relations between China and the United States.

The fact is the United States changed its Taiwan policy even before the outbreak of the Korean War.

The participants of the seminar also noticed that on the other side of the Pacific, the United States has launched a three-year program to commemorate the war in Korea.

"People have reason to believe that the United States, by extensively commemorating the Korean War, is trying to seek the historical basis for its interventionism," said Qu Aiguo, another researcher from the Academy of Military Sciences.

One important lesson from the Korean War has been, the participants pointed out, that China is a peace-loving nation, but when its national sovereignty and territorial integrity are threatened it will stand up to defend itself and fight for peace and dignity.

"The Korean War demonstrates to the world that Chinese people mean what they say. This applies to the Taiwan question, which is purely Chinas internal affair. No other country has the right to interfere with it," Qu said.

(China Daily 11/11/2000)