October 25 is the day that the Chinese People’s Volunteer Army engaged in the first battle against the UN troops on the road between Unsan and Onjoeng, North Pyongyan province, in the Korean War. On October 25, 1959, North Korea erected the Sino-Korean Friendship Tower in Pyongyang to commemorate China’s participation in the Korean War. When Chinese leaders visit Pyongyang, they dedicate flowers here. Symbolizing the date, it is made of 1025 granite and marble stones.
A nation participates in a war when it thinks it can win. At the time, China was no match for the United States, which had modernized weapons, outstanding mobility, unchallenged ground firepower and a navy and air force that China did not have. Nevertheless, China thought it could defeat the United States. Hong Xuezhi, former deputy commander of the People’s Volunteer Army, listed four reasons in his memoir.
First, China had experience defeating the enemy with better gear for decades, including during the war against Japan and the Chinese Civil War. Second, the United States was weak in night battles and in close combat, which China was good at. Third, China can bear hardship better than the United States. Fourth, China had a supply advantage.
In contrast, the policymakers and the commanders of the United States completely ignored China’s warning for intervention and thought China’s participation would have little impact. Then-U.S. Secretary of State Dean Acheson believed that China did not want to be “chopped up” and called China’s involvement “sheer madness.” Commander of the U.S. Armed Forces in the Far East, Douglas MacArthur, said that if China intervened in the Korean War, it would only lead to mass destruction. However, the Korea War did not go as the United States wished, and the United States chose “honorable truce” over military victory.
After the Korean War, North Korea and China signed the Sino-North Korea Mutual Aid and Cooperation Friendship Treaty in July 1961. Article 2 states, “China provides military and other assistance without hesitation when North Korea is under armed attack.” It means that if the United States makes a preemptive strike on North Korea, China can automatically intervene as it had done during the Korean War. Chinese scholars argue that North Korea could make a miscalculation because of the treaty and say it needs to be revised or scrapped, but the Chinese government remains silent.
I wonder how China will respond to U.S. President Donald Trump’s ambiguous verbal bombs. His extreme rhetoric such as “the calm before the storm” or “total destruction” makes China nervous. While China is disappointed by Kim Jong-un’s nuclear and missile provocations, it has not given up on North Korea yet. Korean diplomacy is faced with challenges. We need to look for a negotiator like Seo Hui (942-998) who can prevent miscalculations by Washington and appeal for assistance from Beijing.
JoongAng Ilbo, Oct. 9, Page 26
*The author is a researcher at the Unification Research Institute of the JoongAng Ilbo.
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