The Korean War – two different perspectives

The perspective from the People’s Republic of China

The People’s Republic of China regarded America as acting as an imperialistic aggressor who not only interfered in inter-Korean affairs without any justification, but who also interfered in inter-Chinese affairs.

In particular, it was America’s support for Chiang Kai-shek’s Guomindang in Taiwan that drew PRC criticism. Chiang Kai-shek was able to repeatedly repel invasions led by the Chinese People’s Liberation Army with the aid of American weapons. Strengthened by a belief of the overall aggressive character of American imperialism, they even feared a direct intervention of the USA on the part of the Guomindang.

The transfer of aircraft carriers of the seventh US-fleet into the Taiwan Strait, immediately after the outbreak of the Korean War, represented according to the Chinese point of view, an aggression, especially since Communist China considered the question concerning Taiwan as being an inner-Chinese affair.

When the UN troops, led by the USA, crossed the 38th degree of latitude and the North Korean army got subsequently pushed back up to the Chinese-Korean border river Yalu, the PRC saw its security interests heavily violated, since it did not want to tolerate a united Korea under US-control.  

Mao feared that the transfer of the seventh US-fleet into the Taiwan Strait and its subsequent entry into the Korean War could be part of an American strategy aiming at plotting a large-scale war against PR China as in Korea as well as by their support of the Guomindang on Taiwan. For this reason, the entry into the Korean War was considered from the Chinese point of view as being a preemptive strike against aggressive American intentions.  

The American perspective

When judging about the American perspective on the Korean War, and especially the intervention of the Chinese voluntary units, one has to consider certain criteria relating to domestic affairs. The republican senator Joseph McCarthy had just started in USA his malicious campaign against Communists in the government and in public life.

Simultaneously, the USA also had to digest the shock they faced with the loss of China to the Communists. The Truman government could no longer stand the accusation of being “soft against communism” if it wished to have a chance for winning the presidency elections in 1952.

The dominant western opinion at that time saw an international Communism that tried to expand step by step its sphere of influence to other countries. The fight Ho Chi Mins in Vietnam made against the Frenchmen and the acceptance of its government by the Soviet Union, the civil war of the Chinese Communist party against the Guomindang, as well as the Soviet-Chinese treaty of friendship and North Korea’s attack on South Korea were all seen as a consistent aggressive strategy of International Communism, led by Moscow, aiming at conquering the “free world.”

Intervening in the Korean War was thus seen as being part of a damming strategy against the advance of Communism. This strategy would overshadow the diplomatic relationships between the People’s Republic of China and the USA up into the 70s.

However, the USA did not pursue any consistent policy in Korea. Its goal within the scope of its damming politics against the USSR after 1949 consisted primarily of building up a protective belt in Asia, which should include the Phillippines and Japan, but not Taiwan and Korea. This strategy was changed only after the invasion of North Korea into the south.

The USA faced a dilemma. On the one hand it wanted to establish a precedent in order to show the world that the USA would under no circumstances accept an expansion of Communism. On the other hand, it did not want to risk a total war in Asia against Comunist China and the Soviet Union. 



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