From Interstate - Journal of International Affairs VOL. 2014/2015 NO. 1
Explaining China's Intervention in the Korean War in 1950
Individual Leaders: Ideological Factors
So far, the paper has analysed and concluded that constraints on economic reconstruction and military redeployment, and the need for domestic anti-sabotage campaign and the CCP’s regime consolidation played important roles in Beijing’s decision to intervene in Korea. However, there is still one aspect that needs to be examined: the role of the individual CCP leaders, especially Mao. Several newly published documents on the Korean War indicated that Mao played a dominant role in the process of decision making and the later military deployment of the CPV.31 The following part of the paper will conclude that the idea of a communist-capitalist confrontation and hostility towards the U.S. served as a catalyst to Beijing’s final decision.
In his analysis of the Chinese foreign policies Chinese foreign policies, Allen Whiting points out that the assumption of conflict played an important role in the ideological component of China’s foreign policy making.32 He further argued that the possession of Marxism-Leninism ideology by the CCP had leaded it to conclude that the confrontation between capitalism and communism is omnipresent and inevitable.33 Indeed, such ideology did influence the decision making of senior Politburo members, especially Mao. On one hand, the CCP leaders believed that China had a responsibility to assist communist North Korea in fighting against the invasion. By referring to the purpose of intervention as ‘to assist our Korean comrades’ and to rescue the ‘revolutionary strength of Korea’ in his telegram to Stalin, Mao showed that he felt an internationalist duty to assist the Korean revolution and to boost revolutionary morale among Communist movements in the whole of East Asia.34
With such feelings in mind, he responded to those who were against intervention in the Politburo by saying ‘once another nation is in a crisis, we’d feel bad if we stood idly by’.35 On the other hand, Mao and the CCP leaders had been long aware of Washington’s hostility towards China, and believed that the confrontation between communist China and capitalist United States was inevitable.36 In the official propagandas, the CCP leaders repeatedly emphasised that the United States was China’s enemy, from both the historical perspective (that the U.S. was one of the leading nations to exploit China) and the current perspective (that the capitalist U.S. was the natural enemy of communist China).37
The influence of ideology of individual leaders is important in the case of China’s decision for two reasons. Firstly, by stressing the inevitability of the communist-capitalist confrontation and the need to support the communist revolution, the CCP could both justify China’s intervention and prove that the CCP’s decision was made from a moral standpoint. This justification and emphasis of moral high ground can on the one hand persuade the majority of Politburo members who argued against intervention, and on the other hand mobilise the support from the population. On the other hand, it also explains why the CCP decided to intervene and not to choose to rely on the alliance treaty.
With the ideology of class conflict and promoting communist revolutions, intervening in Korea would not only safeguard national security and alleviate internal pressure, but also promote China’s international status as an avant garde of world communist revolution. At the same time, under the domestic political situation in which individual leaders like Mao played an almost dominant role in the decision making process, the ideology of such leaders would influence their personal preference and therefore the decision making process of the whole administration.
This paper has argued that the main driving forces behind Beijing’s decision to intervene in Korea in 1950 were the ones of security concerns, domestic considerations and ideologies possessed by leaders of the CCP. The common explanations contend that China decided to intervene in Korea mainly because of the security consideration of possible U.S. invasion of Chinese territory. This paper argues that the security concern was not simply an invasion of Chinese sovereignty, because under the Sino-Soviet Alliance Treaty, China was guaranteed with an all-out Soviet support if it was invaded by other countries. As a country with its material power largely destroyed by the civil war and its military power far weaker than the United States, China’s intervention was extremely risky and brought a huge burden on its reconstruction projects. Therefore, the fact that China did not choose the alternative of relying on the Sino-Soviet Alliance Treaty and to stay outside of the war indicates that there are other factors influencing Beijing’s decision. This report has discussed three such factors in detail.
First, the report argues that the first factor is the security consideration. Specifically, this security consideration is mainly the one of constrains on economic reconstruction and deployment of troops for operations towards Taiwan and against anti-Communist forces.
The second factor is the domestic consideration of safeguarding and consolidating the CCP’s regime and authority. Beijing calculated that the intervention could boost domestic morale and help suppress the growing anti-Communist activities at home, and therefore strengthen the CCP’s authority and internal control, which was crucial to the CCP regime, established for less than a year.
The third such factor is the ideology possessed by individual CCP leaders like Mao. The belief that a communist-capitalist confrontation was inevitable and that China and the U.S. were natural enemies served as a catalyst alongside other calculations to motivate key leaders like Mao to make the decision of intervention regardless of the difficulties it might face. In summary, these three factors also have to be taken into account when explaining China’s reasons for its intervention in the Korean War in 1950.
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