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China, UN, and the Korean War

Guest Author - Rebecca Graf

China’s relationship with Korea was limited to North Korea which adopted a communist government. This tie kept the Chinese, as well as the Soviet, eyes on Korea as the North Koreans planned for an invasion of South Korea with “an impressive military force outfitted by the Soviet Union.” Seen as a “security blanket” for the communist countries, Moscow was inclined to help North Korea out as much as possible. Everything was coming down to the Soviets versus the United States with all other countries used as pawns in the highly strategic chess game. In regards to the Korean War, China became the communist representative that battled the capitalists.

China saw the United States as the problem in the Korean War and not the United Nations though the forces were technically the United Nations forces under the approved command of American military leaders. Mao Zedong saw the need for China to be involved in the war to prevent further “revolutionary wars such as the one being fought in Korea.” China’s involvement was not guaranteed despite the wants of the world leaders until the United Nations’ forces began marching toward the Yalu with the intent of conquering all of North Korea and not just stopping at the 38th Parallel. The Chinese military waited until their opponents were “overextended, ill-equipped, and outnumbered UN troops.”

Before the war erupted and China stepped in, there was a “deep hostility” felt toward the United States by China. The United States was enemy before the crossing of the 38th Parallel. China felt that the Western powers treated China as an inferior nation throughout history. China did not trust the West and viewed every move as an attempt to undermine the relatively new communist government in China. China’s involvement with Korea prior to the government had been close but not enough to jump immediately in the conflict to help Korea. It took China feeling threatened before that occurred.

China was struggling on the world stage and saw the Korean conflict as a way to “greatly strengthen the CCP’s authority and reputation” helping to achieve Mao’s plans of moving China “into a new socialist country” that others would stand up and notice. Korea was a dangerous game being played that affected China’s future and all of communism. As the war progressed, the combat areas switched from primarily being located in the southern part of Korea to the north which was much closer to China. The threat was seen coming as China feared for its “main source of coal, steel, and water power”. The tragic potential results was getting worse the closer the UN forces advanced toward China.

China moved in on the Korean conflict causing a drastic shift in the battle with the huge amount of human resources. This was completely unexpected to the UN leaders especially the Americans as it was assumed that the Soviets and China were not getting involved. The lack of activity from either side and the lack of vocal opposition seemed to support that theory. If China had not jumped in after Inchon, Americans felt that “the time for China’s intervention in Korea had passed.” The Americans added assumption upon assumption leading them to blindly approach the complete takeover of North Korea. The Western power told itself that China had too much concern on “domestic problems, and it would be unlikely for them to send troops to Korea.” This assumption would prove costly to the UN forces as the massive Chinese military poured over the borders and pushed the UN troops back to the 38th parallel.

The United Nations found itself pulled from the inside and the outside as the members of the Security Council battled each other. The Cold War was no longer contained between the Soviets and America. It was Communism versus the West. The UN was successful in that “South Korea regained its independence”, but it found itself with hands tied behind its back as the Soviets tossed aside the still mysterious “boycott of the Security Council” and began blocking the UN moves to win the war in the manner originally intended. The UN found itself unable to do much but continue on the path it started while the Soviets were absent. A positive result was the creation of the UN peacekeeping operations which were “conceived and developed as…[an] alternative mechanism” to the tied hands.

After the Korean conflict, it became apparent that the UN could react in times of need though there were many areas that needed addressed. One large observation was the amount of pull the United States had on the organization’s actions. This mean that the United Nations was a huge player in the Cold War whether it wanted to or not. The stage for peacekeeping had changed. A new act had been announced that the original writers had not foreseen. While surviving successfully the first major conflict, the UN found itself having to play a completely different role that would change the entire future of the organization. The Korean conflict did more protect South Korea. It expanded the Cold War and pushed the United Nations down an entirely different path.


Chen, Jian. China’s Road to the Korean War: The Making of the Sino-American Confrontation. New York: Columbia University Press, 1994.
Kaufman, Burton I. Korean Conflict. Westport: Greenwood Press, 1999.
Ram, Sunil. The History of the United Nations Peacekeeping Operations During the Cold War: 1945 to 1987. Williamsburg: Peace Operations Training Institute, 2008.
“The United Nations and the Korean War.” History Learning Site. http://www.historylearningsite.co.uk/united_nations_korean_war.htm.

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