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New Facts, New Viewpoints:A Review of the Process and Meaning of theMao Zedong's Consent for the Korean War

Sangmun Suh 1

1국방부군사편찬연구소

Accredited

ABSTRACT

Mao Zedong consistently opposed an “immediate” invasion into the south of Korea by the north until Kim Il Sung visited Beijing in mid May of 1950 and requested in person that he agree to Kim's plan to invade the south. It may not be right, however, to conclude that Mao opposed the offensive altogether, because the truth is that he just didn't expect the war to break out as early as 1950. That is why he didn't try to deter Kim's aggression against the south in a decisive manner. Mao had once worried about US intervention, but he was eventually persuaded by Kim who pressed him with Stalin's agreement and assurance of early victory, and he finally decided to actively support Kim with “real actions” if that was unavoidable. Mao's agreement with Kim Il Sung's war plan was one of the decisive factors that led to the outbreak of the Korean War in June 1950. If Mao hadn't given his agreement, the war would have not broken out in 1950, or at least in June of that year. For Mao, the decision was made from his sense of responsibility for the role he was expected to play in the world communist movement, according to the agreement with Stalin, to share responsibilities between east and west. It was also a strategic approach to secure China's national interest from the Soviets by showing that China was faithful to the Sino-Soviet Treaty of Friendship, Alliance and Mutual Assistance. It seems that the first stage of the Stalin's strategy was to support the Kim Il Sung regime to turn the entire Korean peninsula into a communist state before the intervention of US forces and, if that failed, the next stage was to let the Chinese forces intervene in the war in order to secure a victory. Stalin seems to have interpreted the Mao's consent as a military intervention, and for him the Chinese intervention was an engine to achieve the communization of all of Korea and a multilateral and effective means to check both China and the USA. Meanwhile, Mao Zedong regarded the situation as a profitable opportunity to get from the Soviet Union the diplomatic, military and economic support he needed by giving Stalin what he required, while further consolidating China's national defense via turning Korea into a communist state. However, it must be pointed out that Mao's consent to Kim Il Sung's scheme to invade South Korea didn't presuppose direct Chinese intervention in the war. Therefore, the meaning and motivation of Mao's consent given to Kim in May 1950 were slightly different from those he had when he sent his army to North Korea five months later, that is, in mid October. In other words, Mao didn't consider it necessary to send the Chinese Communist Army when he gave his consent to Kim's scheme. He was, in fact, not in a position to oppose the war plan already finalized by Kim Il Sung and Stalin and accordingly all he could do was to expect Kim to promptly occupy South Korea as he promised and end the war once and for all before the arrival of the US forces. It was very difficult for Mao Zedong to evade historical responsibility for his support for Kim Il Sung's invasion of South Korea. One may try to defend Mao by saying that what he did was simply a maneuver to ensure national security and vital national interests by maintaining friendly relationships with the Soviet Union and North Korea. The truth is, however, that Mao did give his consent despite the fact that the invasion was not unavoidable, thus helping create an important condition that led to Kim's invasion of South Korea in 1950.

Citation status

* References for papers published after 2022 are currently being built.