Sino-Soviet Relations and the Origins of the Korean War

——Soviet Strategic Goals in the Far East in Early 1950

In 1949, Stalin insisted that the unification of the Korean peninsula had to be realized in a peaceful manner.  In early 1950, however, he suddenly approved North Korean leader Kim Il Sung’s proposal for invading South Korea.  Until very recently, the only clue to the reason for this major policy shift was found in a telegram Stalin sent’s telegram to Mao Zedong on 14 May 1950.  In it, Stalin simply stated that “in light of the altered international situation, we agree with the proposal of the Koreans to move toward reunification.”[1]  What Stalin meant by the phrase “altered international situation” has remained a mystery.  Scholars have been simply unable to explain this sudden and dramatic transformation in the Soviet Union’s policy toward Korea in 1950.

In the mid-1990s, the Russian government declassified a number of crucial documents on the Korean War.  In addition, many new memoirs and interviews on the subject have been recently published in China.  These new sources have led scholars to thoroughly reconsider many aspects of the Korean War and Soviet foreign policy.[2]  In particular, much discussion has revolved around Stalin’s shifting attitudes toward Korea in 1950. Scholars have debated the possible impact on Stalin of factors such as the establishment of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), the victory of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) in China, the development of Soviet nuclear capabilities, the determination that the United States would not intervene in Korea, and the desire to offset the U.S. presence in Japan with the establishment of a Communist state in Korea.[3]

In their book Uncertain Partners, Sergei Goncharov, John Lewis, and Xue Litai argue that Stalin’s main goal in Korea was to expand the Soviet Union’s buffer zone.  Korea gave Stalin a springboard from which he could invade Japan in future conflicts.  In addition, they contend that Stalin’s Korea policy was designed to test U.S. will and aggravate the hostility between China and the United States.  Finally, they believe that Stalin wished to divert American military attention away from Europe.[4] John W. Garver places primary emphasis on Stalin’s attitude toward Japan, contending that Stalin hoped to prevent that country from becoming a U.S. military base.[5] A. V. Torkunov, on the other hand, concludes that Stalin felt free to do as he wished in Korea, since the Soviet leaders assumed the United States was only interested in Jiang Jieshi’s (Chiang Kaishek) fate in Taiwan.  In addition, Torkunov argues that Stalin was influenced by Soviet inroads into the U.S. nuclear monopolynuclear progress, and he contends that Stalin viewed this as a shift in the balance of power that could deter U.S. intervention in the Far East.[6]

This essay will analyze the shift in Stalin’s Korea policy on three different levels.  First, it will examine the historical and political context of Soviet policy toward Korea in the 1950s.  Second, it will provide an in-depth look at Stalin’s immediate incentives to shift his Korea stance.  Finally, it will look at Stalin’s calculations of the means necessary for the success of his new policy.  At each level, issues such as the Sino-Soviet alliance, the growing Sino-American confrontation, the complicated U.S-Soviet relationship, and the postwar Asian context will be considered.

The Political Context in 1950

The strategic goals of Soviet foreign policy after World War II fell into three major, interrelated major categories: peaceful coexistence, world revolution, and national security. Among the three, priority was given to national security. Stalin alternately exploited peaceful coexistence for propagandistic purposes or engaged in promoting world revolution whenever expedient. Both of these strategic goals, however, were ultimately subordinate to his perception of what would best serve the Soviet Union’s national security interests. 

Because of the innate contradictions among the three goals, Stalin’s foreign policy was continually shifting in the postwar period.  In the first years after the war, Stalin hoped to cooperate with Western allies and desired to consolidate and develop the benefits he gained through the Yalta and Potsdam Conferences.  At the same time, Stalin sought to expand into such regions as Turkey and Iran, which the Yalta Conference did not touch.  But Stalin never let his desire to extend the Soviet sphere of influence overcome his policy of cooperation with the West.  The Soviet Union adopted a policy of retreat and compromise when confronted with a firm position by the United States and Great Britain.  Soviet withdrawal from Iran, Manchuria, and North Korea revealed that Stalin’s expansionist goal was limited.  Whenever possible, he avoided direct conflict with the United States.[7]

The Marshall Plan of June 1947 changed Stalin’s attitude.  In his view, the Plan was designed to create an anti-Soviet bloc in Europe. Stalin vehemently opposed the U.S. attempts to expand Western influence into Eastern Europe and to simultaneously rearm occupied western Germany, Russia’s historical enemy.  The Soviet reaction to the Marshall Plan pushed the United States and the Soviet Union deeper into Cold War conflict. After 1947, Stalin’s policy toward the United States and the West became increasingly aggressive.[8]

U.S.—Soviet conflict first took place in Europe first.  The Berlin Crisis of June 1948—May 1949 , brought the Cold War to center stage in world affairs.  However, the firm stance taken by the U.S. and Western Europe forced the Soviet Union to back down. When Stalin decided to show his determination against the United States on Germany, he did not expect that the United States would be so unyielding because he had underestimated U.S. military and economic strength. Consequently, Stalin decided to abandon direct confrontation with the United States in Europe when he realized that the Soviet Union did not have the means to do so effectivelymount an effective challenge. [9]

It was in this international context that Stalin turned his major strategic attention to East Asia, where hostilities had been growing in the late 1940s. The victorious Chinese revolution and Beijing’s adoption of a pro-Soviet “leaning-to-one-side” policy greatly increased the tension and uncertainty in the U.S.-Soviet relationship.  At the same time, tensions also grew between Soviet-controlled North Korea and U.S.—protected South Korea.  Both Korean regimes hoped to unify Korea through military means.  Military clashes and fighting never stopped along the 38th parallel. The South Korean leader Syngman Rhee continually churned out war propaganda and repeatedly initiated military provocations after U.S. troops withdrew, and Kim Il Sung in Pyongyang actively considered an attack on the South.[10]

Stalin believed that the U.S. withdrew its troops from the Korean peninsula to “give Rhee’s army freedom to act,” and to “untie Southern reactionaries’ hands and feet.”[11] In order to deal with this threat, the Soviet Union increased its military aid to North Korea.  At Kim Il Sung’s request, the Soviet Union agreed to offer North Korea military-technological support as part of a trade agreement.  In 1949, Stalin sent the following items to Pyongyang: 100 military planes with different functions, 100 tanks, 57 armored vehicles, 102 automatic cannons, 44 foldable landing-craft carriers, rubber boats and various types of guns, ammunition, and military equipment.[12] At this point, however, Moscow’s intention was to strengthen North Korean defensive capabilities rather than to encourage offensive action.[13] Stalin insisted on reducing tensions between the Koreas and avoiding Soviet involvement in the conflict, even though some Soviet military leaders preferred to take military action.  When Terentii Shtykov, Soviet ambassador to Pyongyang, proposed to dismantlinge the navy base in Tsinkai and air base in Pyongyang after U.S. troops withdrew from South Korea, Stalin quickly approved the proposal. Soviet policymakers were concerned that North Korea could make use of those military bases to attack the South, and involve the Soviet Union in an embarrassing situation.[14]  The Soviets also took measures to stop North Korea’s counterattacks against the South, fearing that the North Korean Communists might turn the tensions on the peninsula into an uncontrollable crisis.

North Korean leaders, however, hoped to use the attacks from the south as an opportunity achieve Korean unification through military means.  On 3 September 1949, Shtykov reported to Moscow that Mun Il, Kim Il Sung’s personal secretary, believed South Korea intended to seize the area of the Ongjin peninsular north of the 38th parallel and bomb the cement plant in the city of Kaisiu. Kim Il Sung subsequently asked the Soviet Union for permission to take the Ongjin peninsula and South Korean territory from Ongjin to Kaesong to shorten the line of defense. Believing that his troops could occupy the whole of Korea in two weeks, at most two months, Kim Il Sung planned to continue southward actions if the international situation permitted.[15]

Grigorii Ivanovich Tunkin, the Soviet charge d’affaires in Pyongyang, was instructed to meet  Kim Il Sung and Pak Hon-yong (head of Foreign Ministry in the Democratic People's Republic of  Korea).  After meeting with them on 12 and 13 September, he sent Moscow a detailed analysis of the military capabilities of both South Korea and North Korea, Kim Il Sung’s plans, and his own view on this issue.  According to Tunkin, Kim Il Sung assumed that the South Korean military force was not strong: “The northern army is superior to the southern army in technical equipment (tanks, artillery, planes), discipline, training of officers and troops, and morale-political relations.” But if North Korea’s military action to seize the Ongjin pen insula were to trigger a civil war, such a war might be difficult to win.  Therefore, Kim Il Sung hoped to avoid war, only seeking to secure the Ongjin peninsula and a portion of the territory of South Korea near Kaesong to the east of this peninsula.  Kim also expected Southern “partisans” to rise up when the North entered the South.  If everything went smoothly, North Korea could continue its southward march.  Tunkin felt that Kim’s limited military action would definitely lead to a civil war. He made it clear that “to begin the partial operation conceived by Kim Il Sung is inadvisable,” because the North was not strong enough to win a civil war quickly. A protracted war would place the North at a disadvantage, both militarily and politically.[16]

Shtykov, on the other hand, supported Kim Il Sung’s plan. In a telegram to Stalin on 15 September, the Soviet ambassador reiterated the North Korean leader’s arguments:  The Korean people were eager to achieve unification, but they could not do so through peaceful means.  If North Korea did not act militarily, unification could be delayed for many years, and the reactionary South Korean regime would use that time to suppress the “democratic forces” in the South, establish a more powerful army to invade the North, and destroy all the institutions that the North had constructed in the past years. Shtykov argued that the political situation in the Korean Peninsula was favorable to North Korea.  Even though Pyongyang could not exclude the possibility that “the U.S. would intervene in this conflict and aid South Korea,” and that “the People’s Army is not strong enough quantitatively and qualitatively to wipe out Rhee’s army and occupy South Korea,” Shtykov still assumed that it was possible and appropriate to encourage Communist guerrillas in the South and offer other types of support to the North. In addition, Pyongyang, in Shtykov’s opinion, could “make use of Seoul’s provocation at the 38th parallel to punish South Korea by seizing the Ongjin peninsula and the region of Kaesong.” Shtykov also believed that since the Chinese revolution had gained its victory without America’s interference and the Korean people had demonstrated their “revolutionary enthusiasm after the withdrawal of U.S. troops,” the situation in the Far East made it a favorable moment for the Soviet Union to confront the United States.[17] 

Nevertheless, Stalin was reluctant to support military action in the Korean peninsula.  The Soviet Politburo discussed the Korean situation on 24 September, then instructed Shtykov to read its decision verbatim to Kim Il Sung and Pak Hon-yong:

Since at present North Korea does not have the necessary military superiority over South Korea, we have no choice but to acknowledge that a military attack on the South is ill-timed and therefore, from the military point of view, impermissible.... At present, very little has been done to develop the guerrilla movement and …prepare for a general uprising in South Korea.  Therefore, even from a political perspective, the attack on the South has not been prepared.

Moreover, the limited operation to attack the Ongjin peninsula and seize the Kaesong region could lead to “the beginning of a war between North and South Korea.”  The possibility of a prolonged war could then “give the Americans an excuse for any interference in Korean affairs.”  The Politburo concluded that

the struggle for the unification of Korea demands a concentration of maximum effort.  In the first place, the guerrilla movement must be developed, liberated areas must be created, and a general armed uprising in South Korea must be prepared for in order to overthrow the reactionary regime. . . . Second, the People’s Army of Korea must be strengthened in every way.[18]

This resolution clearly indicated that Moscow’s policy at the time was to encourage unification through revolution in the South rather than by military invasion from the North. It is interesting to note that, in another instruction drafted by  Nikolai Bulganin, Andrei Gromyko, and others, Shtykov was asked to remind Kim Il Sung that he had not done everything to achieve “peaceful unification.”  For instance, he had “overlooked the Declaration of Peaceful Unification issued by the National Front, which is an important and politically favorable document.”[19]

North Korean leaders accepted Moscow’s instructions reluctantly,[20] but they did not stop preparing for military action.  When a ferocious fight took place near the 38th parallel on 14 October 1949, Stalin was furious as Shtykov and other Soviet military advisers had supported this action without reporting it to Moscow. Gromyko severely reprimanded Shtykov: “You were forbidden to recommend to the North Korean government that they take action against the South Koreans without approval of the Center, and you were told that it was necessary for you to present the Center timely reports on all actions and events occurring along the 38th parallel.”[21] At this point, Stalin still preferred to solve the Korea issue through peaceful means. 

Why was Stalin reluctant to take military action in Korea?  Soviet documents have shown that Stalin was primarily concerned about two things:  the possibility of U.S. intervention in Korea, and North Korea’s lack of preparedness for war.[22] However, these concerns were not sufficient to prevent Stalin from permitting the North Korean Communists from starting a revolutionary war.  But Stalin needed the impetus to justify taking action—a  motive that would override the above concerns.

Indeed, when Stalin finally changed his mind and approved Kim Il Sung’s plans in late January 1950, these concerns had not been alleviated.  The preconditions for North Korean action against the South still did not exist:  The North had not established new liberated areas in the South and had not encouraged guerrilla activity there.[23] But careful analysis of the changing international situation in East Asia in late 1949 and early 1950 demonstrates that it was the rise of Communist China and the resulting Sino-Soviet alliance that created a new impetus for Stalin to change his Korea policy.

The Impetus for Shifting Soviet Policy Toward Korea
Stalin began to adopt a different Korean peninsula policy in the first few months in early 1950. According to Shtykov’s report to Moscow on 19 January 1950, Kim Il Sung raised the unification issue again at a luncheon held by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of North Korea on 17 January.  Kim suggested that the liberation of the South should happen after revolution in China had been accomplished.  In Kim’s own words,

The people of South Korea trust me and rely on our armed might.  Guerrillas cannot solve the problem.  The people of South Korea know that we have a good army.  Lately I have not slept well at night, thinking about how to resolve the question of the unification of the whole country.  If the matter of … the unification of the country is drawn out, then I may lose the trust of the Korean people.

Kim acknowledged that Stalin had given permission for Northern action only if the South instigated hostilities, but he argued that this meant a long delay while waiting for Rhee Syngman to act.  Kim again expressed the wish to visit Stalin and procure permission for action against the South. Kim even assured Shtykov that the Korean People’s Army could take the Ongjin peninsula in three days, and then push to capture Seoul in the several days following. Keeping the Soviet Politburo’s 24 September 1949 resolution in mind, Shtykov did not give Kim an encouraging response.[24]

In a surprise move, Stalin himself changed his mind after hearing Kim’s report. He cabled Kim personally on 30 January:

I received your report. I understand the dissatisfaction of Comrade Kim Il Sung, but he must understand that an effort as important as the one he wishes to undertake in South Korea needs careful preparation.  The matter must be organized so that it will not be such a great risk.  If he wants to discuss this matter with me, then I will always be ready to receive him and discuss it with him.  Transmit all this to Kim Il Sung and tell him that I am ready to help him in this matter.[25]

Kim Il Sung was enthusiastic about Stalin’s reply and expressed his willingness to visit Moscow immediately.  Kim also suggested increasing his army to ten divisions, and purchasing Soviet weaponry for his three new divisions.  Stalin agreed to fulfill Kim’s request.[26]  Stalin also appointed A. M. Vasilevsky as head of the team of Russian military advisers to the Korean People’s Army, a position that had been held by the Soviet ambassador since the Soviet troops had left.  At the same time, the Soviet Union began to provide North Korea with massive military aid.[27]

Kim Il Sung secretly visited Moscow between 8 and 25 April 1950 and had direct talks with Stalin. No records of these talks have been found so far, and scholars have had to rely on the memories of participants.[28] The Report on the Background of the Korean War, provided by the Soviet Foreign Affairs Ministry to Brezhnev on 9 August 1966, stated that Stalin finally approved Kim’s military plans during Kim’s visit to Moscow in March and April.[29] It is thus clear that Stalin decided to allow Kim to launch a war on the Korean peninsula between January and April 1950.  The important question is: What happened in those months to prompt Stalin to change his Korea policy?

One plausible explanation can be found in the shifting U.S. attitude toward Korea and Taiwan. On 5 January 1950, President Harry Truman proclaimed that the United States would not challenge the claim that Taiwan was part of China. One week later, U.S. Secretary of State Dean Acheson openly excluded Taiwan and South Korea from America’s west Pacific defense perimeter, but, at the same time, he tried to drive a wedge between the Soviet Union and China by claiming that the Soviet Union was pursuing an imperialistic policy toward China, especially in Xinjiang and Manchuria.[30] Recently available Chinese and Soviet sources show that these statements caught the attention of both Stalin and Mao while Mao was in Moscow. V. P. Tkachenko, head of the Korean Affairs Division of the Soviet Communist Party Central Committee, recalled that Stalin was impressed with Acheson’s speech after he had studied it carefully.[31] Chinese and Soviet leaders made concerted attempts to rebut Acheson’s attack on Sino-Soviet relations.[32] It seemed, however, that the U.S. was retreating from East Asia. On 27 January 1950, Su Yu, a high-ranking Chinese People’s Liberation Army commander who was then placed in charge of the Taiwan campaign, concluded in an internal report that the United States would not send military forces to defend Taiwan.[33] In a face-to-face discussion about the Korean situation, Mao told Stalin that he did not believe the United States would intervene in Korea’s internal affairs.[34] This favorable international context might be used as an explanation for Stalin’s shift in Korea policy to support Kim’s plans.

Interpreting Stalin’s attitude toward Korea as a response to the open statements made by two U.S. leaders would mean underestimating the complexity of the Soviet dictator’s inner world. In fact, evidence suggests that his motives were farm more complicated. In his 30 January 1950 telegram to Shtykov, Stalin only suggested that he was “ready to help [Kim Il Sung] in this matter,” without specifying how he would help the North Korean Communists. Then, during Kim Il Sung’s visit to Moscow in April, Stalin again made it very clear that he would not back Kim’s invasion plan unless the North Korean leader first secured China’s support. In other words, unless Stalin made certain that China would also be brought into the game, otherwise he would not to play the game at all.

Stalin had complicated motives for insisting on China’s involvement in the Korean conflict. Recently available Chinese and Soviet documents hint that Stalin may have shifted his policy toward Korea in January 1950 because of his subtle reading of the significance of the Chinese Communist revolution. Indeed, these new materials indicate that Stalin was not entirely pleased with the victory of the Chinese Communists, and he was reluctant to embrace a new strategic alliance with the newly established People’s Republic of China (PRC).

Scholars have often argued that the birth of the PRC and the signing of the Sino-Soviet alliance positively affected Stalin’s assessment of the balance of power in Asia and gave him the confidence to confront the United States in Asia. But it is also possible to argue that Stalin perceived the rise of the CCP as a potential threat to Soviet dominance of the international Communist movement.  For Stalin, the success of the CCP was a double-edged sword.  On the one hand, it enlarged the Soviet Union’s buffer zone and preserved Communist influence in Asia.  On the other hand, once it gained military strength, China had the potential to become a rival power in the East. Similarly, the Sino-Soviet Treaty could create an important strategic bulwark for the Soviet Union in East Asia, but it meant that Stalin had to abandon most of the privileges he had obtained from Jiang Jieshi in the 1945 Sino-Soviet Treaty of Friendship and Alliance.  Stalin crafted a new Korea policy with these considerations in mind.  

After World War II, Stalin established two major strategic goals for the Soviet Union in East Asia: to separate Mongolia from China and build a broader buffer zone and to restore the pre-1917 Russian sphere of influence in Manchuria with its access to a warm-water port.  Moscow was able to achieve these goals by controlling China Eastern Railroad, Lushun (Port Arthur), and Dalian, as well as through the Yalta Agreement and the Sino-Soviet treaty in 1945.  Stalin, in return, supported the Guomindang (The Nationalist Party or GMD) Government, tried to persuade the CCP to limit its revolutionary activities in China, and  encouraged peace talks between the GMD and the CCP.[35] During the Chinese civil war, Stalin’s China policy began to reflect the growing tension between the Soviet Union and the United States, making Soviet actions in China inconsistent and sometimes self-contradictory. As the GMD government increasingly became a U.S. ally, Stalin delayed the withdrawal of the Soviet troops from Manchuria and supported the entry of CCP forces in the Northeast. But Stalin wished to avoid open U.S.—Soviet confrontation over China, so he adhered to a policy of disengagement during the Chinese civil war. On the eve of the CCP’s final victory, he hoped to play a role in the CCP-GMD peace negotiations in early 1949.[36]  These seemingly inconsistent actions served the consistent purpose of maintaining Soviet privileges in East Asia obtained from the Yalta Conference in 1945.  When the Chinese Communists came to power, Stalin was unsure whether they would defer to Soviet interests in the same manner as the European Communist countries.

The major conflicts between the Soviet Union and China took place over Mongolia, Xinjiang, and Manchuria.  China was realistic on the Mongolian question.  In early 1949, Mao asked Anastas Mikoyan, who was visiting the CCP headquarters at Xipaipo, whether Inner and Outer Mongolia could be merged into one autonomous province of China.  When Mikoyan rejected this proposal, Mao did not press the matter.  During Mao’s visit to Moscow  from December 1949 to February 1950 (which Zhou Enlai joined in January 1950), the status quo of Outer Mongolia was recognized in a joint statement.[37] 

The CCP paid a special attention to the question of Xinjiang.  Mao informed Mikoyan of the importance of Xinjiang and reminded him that the independence movement in Yili was supported by the Soviet Union.  This movement possessed Soviet antiaircraft guns, tanks, and planes.  Mikoyan assured Mao that the Soviet Union did not support the independence movement of minorities in Xinjiang and that it had no territorial designs on that region.  CCP leaders were not convinced and pressed the matter again in the summer of 1949, when Liu Shaoqi, the second most important CCP leader, visited Moscow.[38] In the end, Soviet policy toward Xinjiang satisfied and even surprised the CCP.  Stalin not only suggested to Liu that the Chinese People’s Liberation Army accelerate its liberation of Xinjiang, but he also promised to offer material assistance for this purpose.[39]  It is possible that Stalin’s concession was aimed at winning a favorable bargaining position on the question of Manchuria. 

The real conflict between the Soviet Union and China occurred over Manchuria.  The fate of the Sino-Soviet Treaty of Friendship and Alliance signed in 1945 depended largely on Soviet privileges in this northeastern part of China. Mao, as the founder of the new Communist Chinese state, wanted to abolish unequal treaties in order to preserve China’s national sovereignty. Stalin, on the other hand, did his best to maintain key Soviet positions in East Asia, including Manchuria.  Considering the sensitivity of the matter, both sides proceeded cautiously on the question of the 1945 Sino-Soviet Treaty.  Mikoyan sent a report to the Soviet Politburo admitting that the treaty was not equal and agreeing to abolish it after signing a peace treaty with Japan.  The Soviet Union would withdraw its army from Lushun if the CCP thought it necessary. The Soviet Union also agreed to negotiate on the questions surrounding the China Eastern Railroad.  Mao told Mikoyan that he would establish a special committee to formulate a proposal. Both sides approached these questions without undue agitation. Mikoyan felt that Mao “had his own considerations, but he did not speak out.”[40]

Liu Shaoqi raised the issue of the Sino-Soviet Treaty again when he visited Moscow in July 1949.  Liu, on behalf of the CCP, proposed three alternatives:  the Chinese Communist state could declare the original treaty still in effect, it could negotiate a new Sino-Soviet treaty, or it could maintain the status quo and revise the treaty at a suitable time in the future. Stalin was not pleased by Liu’s proposal.[EAM1]  He explained the conditions under which the treaty was signed, and he listed the reasons why the Soviet Union had stationed its troops in Port Lushun.  Then he made it clear that the Soviet Union would withdraw its troops from Lushun immediately, if China so desired. Finally, Stalin stated that the three choices put forward by Liu should wait until Mao himself visited Moscow.[41] It was clear that Stalin did not want to revise the original treaty.  As scholars have suggested, the proposed withdrawal of Soviet troops from Lushun was more a threat than a conciliatory gesture.If China had accepted the offer, the Soviet Union would consider this an indication of open hostility.[42] Liu had no other choice but to drop the issue for the time being.

When Mao arrived in Moscow for Stalin’s birthday in December 1949, his real purpose was to sign a new Sino-Soviet treaty.  He made these intentions clear in Zhou’s telegram to Moscow and through the report to Stalin of Kovalev, representative of the Soviet Communist Party to the Chinese Communist Party.[43] Stalin made it equally clear that he was not prepared to agree.  According to the minutes of the 16 December Mao-Stalin meeting, Mao raised the issue, and Stalin seemed willing to discuss the matter at first. But then Stalin immediately added that it would be better  “not to modify any of the points of this treaty for now,” because it was concluded in the spirit of the Yalta Agreement. Stalin also made it clear that he would prefer to withdraw his troops from Port Lushun “while formally maintaining theits provisions of the treaty.”[44] According to Mao’s telegram to Liu Shaoqi after the talks, Mao replied that the original treaty had become meaningless because the collapse of the GMD regime.  Stalin then suggested that the Soviet Union would revise the treaty in two years.[45]

Mao was extremely disappointed with the results of these talks.  He spoke with Kovalev on 22 December and asked him to apprise Stalin of two considerations: that the Sino-Soviet treaty was of some importance, and that negotiations on a new treaty should continue.[46] But Stalin disappointed Mao once more by not mentioning the subject in their second conversation on December 24.[47] Thereafter, Mao had no choice but to kill time by remaining in his luxurious villa in Moscow all day.  The deadlock was not broken until 2 January 1950, when Stalin made a concession.  Molotov and Mikoyan visited Mao at 8.00 p.m. on the same day to ask for his opinion on the Sino-Soviet treaty.  Mao presented them with three new options: signing a new Sino-Soviet treaty; issuing a joint statement by the two governments and thus making public their differing opinions; or signing a declaration highlighting the general tenor of Sino-Soviet relations. Molotov declared his willingness to accept the first option immediately.[48]  

The timing of the concession was not accidental. Odd Arne Westad has argued, based on Russian archival sources, that the Soviet leader feared a continuous deadlock over this issue might bring about serious damage to Sino-Soviet relations.  Since Mao had repeatedly asked to negotiate a new treaty, Stalin felt that it would hurt the CCP if Mao left Moscow empty-handed, and the Soviet Union thus would take the responsibilityle for the security of their Communist neighbor.[49]  Stalin seriously considered Mikoyan’s contention that a Sino-Soviet treaty would not irreparably damage Moscow’s interests. Mao’s unyielding attitude also affected Stalin.  The CCP leader told Roshchin on 1 January 1950 that he wished to return to China ahead of schedule on the pretext of feeble health.[50] The following day, Mao publicly declared in a TASS (Soviet news agency) interview that the primary aim of his visit was to sign a new Sino-Soviet treaty.  He further declared that his “stay in Moscow depends partially on when the various problems concerning the interests of PRC can be solved.”[51]  These events were taking place at a time when Burma, India and, most important of all, Great Britain had expressed the willingness to recognize and establish diplomatic relationship with the PRC.[52] After assessing the international situation, Stalin found it necessary to change his attitude toward negotiating a new Sino-Soviet treaty.

When Stalin agreed to negotiate, Mao made it clear that he would take Soviet interests into account.  In a conversation with Vyshinsky on 6 January, Mao stressed that “he increasingly believed that a new Sino-Soviet treaty should be signed,” because the majority of the Chinese people were not satisfied with the old Sino-Soviet Treaty.  Vyshinsky replied that the question was a difficult one, “because the U.S. and Britain might make use of this opportunity to revise some provisions, which would hurt both Moscow and Beijing.  This is what we hate to see and what we cannot allow to take place.”  Mao replied immediately: “It is certain that we should give attention to this situation when we are to solve this matter.”[53] During his talks with Kovalev on 9 January, Mao reiterated that China would abide by all the agreements signed at Yalta, Teheran, and Potsdam.[54] Finally, on 22 January 1950, Stalin openly told Mao that they could begin negotiating a new Sino-Soviet treaty.[55]

To make up for what the Soviet Union would lose by signing the treaty, Stalin insisted on signing a secret supplementary agreement, stipulating that the Far Eastern and Central Asian parts of the Soviet Union, northeastern China, and Xinjiang “should not be leased to any other foreign country and no citizens and investment should be allowed to participate in industrial, financial, commercial and any governmental or non-governmental organs in these regions.[56] Because no “foreign country” or “foreign citizen” could have imagined “leasing” the territory of the Soviet Union, it is apparent that this proposed agreement was directed at Manchuria and Xinjiang.

During negotiations, Soviet officials agreed to return the China Eastern Railway and Port Lushun to China after a peace treaty with Japan had been signed. Stalin felt that this was an enormous concession, one that could potentially jeopardize the Soviet Union’s strategic position in the Far East. Stalin had achieved a major coup in 1945 by gaining access to the Pacific Ocean and control over a warm-water port.  Stalin had contrasted the 1945 victory with Russia’s defeat in the Russo-Japanese war of 1905, and he said that the Russians had waited forty years to end their humiliation.[57] The new Sino-Soviet Treaty made Stalin  reconsider his overall Far East policy, and forced him to come up with new means of maintaining Soviet strategic interests in the area.

With these considerations in mind, Stalin began to develop new strategies for the Northeast Asian region.  The Korean peninsula suddenly seemed attractive, as it could provide the Soviet Union with access to a Pacific warm-water port. If the North Korea occupied South Korea, the Soviet Union could control the whole of the Korean peninsula, and Inchon and Pusan would replace Lushun as ports. As early as March 1949 the Soviet Union and North Korea agreed to build a railroad linking Aoji in Korea and Kraskino in the Soviet Union.  It seemed that this railroad was to replace the China Eastern Railway.[58] If the North Koreans lost, China would be forced to ask the Soviet Union to retain its troops in Port Lushun and Dalian. In either case, Stalin would be the victor.

Stalin had long understood the strategic importance of the Korean peninsula for Soviet security interests. The department of the Soviet Foreign Ministry responsible for the Far East sent a report to the negotiators of the Potsdam Conference on 29 June 1945, pointing out the significance of the Korea issue.  The report declared that the Russo-Japanese War (1904 – 1905), as a Russian war against Japanese expansion onto the Asian continent, was “a historically justified act.”  It further argued that “Japan must be forever excluded from Korea, since a Korea under Japanese rule would be a threat to the eastern territories of the USSR.” The report concluded:

Korean independence must be effective enough to prevent Korea from being turned into a staging ground for future aggression against the USSR, not only from Japan, but also from any other power which would attempt to put pressure on the USSR from the East.  The surest guarantee of the independence of Korea and the security of the USSR in the Far East would be the establishment of friendly and close relations between the USSR and Korea.[59]

In essence, the Soviet leaders fully understood that they had to try to prevent Korea from becoming a springboard for military action on the Asian continent.

During the late 1940s, the Soviet Union placed special weight on several strategic areas in the southern part of the Korean peninsula and linked these areas with Port Lushun in China.  A newly declassified document from Russian archives reveals that in September 1945, the Soviet Union asked that “the island Kvel’part [Chejudo] be placed in the Chinese occupation zone,” arguing that this would  “motivate Chinese interest in strengthening the strategic position of the Soviet-Chinese military-naval base at Port Arthur.”  The report further added that, upon the conclusion of the occupation regime (presumably after two years), “Korea must become a trust territory of the four powers, with apportionment of three strategic regions: Pusan, (Tsinkai), Kvel’part Island (Saisiu), and Chemul’po (Dzinsen) [Inchon], which must be controlled by the Soviet military command.” The report concluded that by insisting on the appointment for the USSR of the Strategic regions in Korea, we can exert pressure on the American positions, using their wish to acquire strategic regions in the Pacific Ocean.  In case the proposal of granting the Soviet Union these strategic regions in Korea is met with opposition, it is possible to propose joint Soviet-Chinese control over the strategic regions.[60]

Another report in September 1945 added that:

In the agreement that determines the conditions of the four-power trusteeship over Korea, the apportionment of the following strategic regions must be provided for, in accordance with article 82 of the U.N. Charter: Pusan and Tsinkai, Kvel’part Island, Dzinsen (Chemul’po). These regions, of essential importance for securing dependable sea communications and approaches to the Soviet military-naval base at Port Arthur, which is in joint use with the Chinese Republic, must be subject to special military control, carried out by the Government of USSR, in correspondence with the provisions of the UN Charter.[61]

SAfter signing the Sino-Soviet Treaty of Friendship and Alliance in August 1945 and the Soviet-American agreement to divide Korea along the 38th parallel convinced , Stalin felt that Soviet strategic aims were satisfied for the time being. But after his meetings with Mao four years later, Stalin realized that returning Lushun to China would mean that Moscow would lose direct control of the only warm water port in the Far East. Soviet strategic interests were again at stake. Control of the strategic regions on the Korean peninsula again returned to his agenda.

Russia had a long tradition of adjusting its Far Eastern policy to suit changing international situations. It is well known that after the humiliating defeat in the Russo-Japanese War in 1905, the Tsarist government reevaluated its strategies and tactics in East Asia. Tsarist Russia began to encourage an independence movement in Mongolia and then negotiated a compromise with Japan, in which Russia acknowledged Japan’s special position in Korea in exchange for Japan’s acknowledgement of a Russian “sphere of influence” in Mongolia.[62] In 1950, when Stalin shifted the emphasis of Soviet foreign policy in East Asia from keeping Lushun to pursuing new warm water ports in Korea, he was following the precedent set by previous Russian rulers. 

The Calculations Underlying Stalin’s New Korea Policy

During the early stages of the Cold War, Stalin adhered to three basic principles in U.S.—Soviet relations.  First, he avoided open confrontation with the United States. Though he believed that conflict between the U.S. and the USSR was inevitable, and though he never excluded the possibility of an eventual war, he was cautious, realizing that Soviet military and economic inferiority meant that any open clash with the West would most likely result in Soviet defeat.  The Berlin crisis had highlighted Soviet weaknesses.  Stalin drew lessons from that conflict and decided to provided North Korea with weaponry and military planning secretly, even though he supported Kim Il Sung’s military invasion.  Stalin refused to allow Soviet military personnel to participate in the war directly.  On 20 June 1950, Shtykov sent Moscow an urgent telegram:  “Kim Il Sung has asked me to communicate the following: ships are needed for the attack and landing.  Two ships have arrived, but we have not been able to prepare crews.  He also requests ten Soviet advisers.  I believe this request should be satisfied.”  Stalin replied two days later: “Your proposal is rejected.  It gives grounds for interference.”[63] The Soviet Union became even more cautious after the outbreak of the Korean War.

Second, Stalin always carefully calculated the probability of U.S. intervention in any given conflict.  He grew anxious about the possible U.S. responses to tensions in Korea in the summer of 1949, and he urged Kim Il Sung and the Soviet Embassy inof Pyongyang to assess the situation. Kim Il Sung believed that the U.S. would not interfere directly, he thought that the United States would do little more than provide Seoul with air force and navy supports or assist military command.[64] Stalin was not so sanguine. But Acheson’s January 1950 speech excluding Korea from America’s western Pacific defensive perimeter seemed to confirm Kim’s assessment, and Stalin therefore agreed to meet Kim in Moscow to discuss his plans to attack the South. According to Mun Il, Kim Il Sung’s interpreter during his visit to Moscow in April 1950, Kim gave Stalin four reasons why the U.S. would not intervene: the North Koreans would launch a decisive surprise attack; the war would be won in three days; there would be an uprising of 200,000 Communist party members in South Korea; and the guerrillas in the southern provinces would support the Korean People’s Army. Thus the United States would not have time to interfere.[65]

This time, Stalin seemed convinced.  After Kim’s secret visit, Stalin finally approved Kim’s military plan. Yu Song-chol, minister for Military Operations of the Korean People’s Army, took part in the war preparations.  In the early 1990s, he recalled that Soviet military advisors planned for an operation that would take only four days, since they assumed that the war would be over once the People’s Army took Seoul.[66] Soviet leaders clearly assumed that the U.S. would have no time to intervene once the Korean War began.

Third, Stalin fully evaluated the potential effects of a possible U.S. intervention.  His general strategy was to involve China. In discussions with Kim Il Sung, Stalin repeatedly stressed the necessity of asking Mao’s permission for any attack on South Korea. M. S. Kapitsa, officer in charge of affairs of the People's Democratic Republic of Korea, remembers that in their final conversation in April 1950, Stalin urged Kim to consult Mao again.  He warned: “If you should get kicked in the teeth, I shall not lift a finger. You have to ask Mao for all the help.”[67] Stalin cabled Mao on 14 May and told him that Moscow had agreed to Kim’s proposal for military action, but he insisted that the final decision rested with the China and North Korea.  If the Chinese were reluctant, the matter had to be postponed.[EAM3] [68]  It was obvious that Stalin wished to force China to shoulder the responsibility of aiding North Korea if the United States intervened in the conflict.

In essence, Stalin faced two requests in 1950.  Kim Il Sung needed Moscow’s permission and assistance for his attack on South Korea.  Mao hoped for Soviet military aid in his campaign to “liberate” Taiwan.  For Stalin, the decision was not difficult.  A unified Korea would be under Soviet control.  A China victorious in Taiwan would be a potential rival for Soviet influence in the Far East.  While Kim Il Sung needed only Soviet military assistance, Mao needed direct air and naval support for the Taiwan campaign, particularly after the People's Liberation Army's (PLA) failed invasion of Jinmen Island in October 1949.[69] Since Stalin wished both to unify the Korean peninsula and to subject China to Soviet influence, the Korean conflict seemed a perfect means of achieving both ends.  The outbreak of the Korean War would prevent China from attacking Taiwan, and, at the same time, it would place China’s military at the service of Soviet strategy.  Stalin knew that Mao was reluctant to intervene in Korea before the CCP had consolidated its power and achieved China’s unification. But Stalin had to ensure that China would back the North Korean Communists before he approved Kim’s invasion plans.

Mao’s reaction to Soviet and North Korean plans is now better understood because of newly available evidence.  Four questions regarding Mao’s strategic thinking can now be provisionally answered. [EAM4]

First, did China specifically endorse Kim Il Sung’s military action against the South?  As early as May 1949, Kim Il Sung sent Kim Il,  the director of the Political Department of the People’s Army, on a secret visit to Beijing.  Kim Il met Zhu De and Zhou Enlai four times and met Mao once.  He discussed the following matters with the Chinese leaders:  the transfer of  Korean Chinese soldiers in the PLA to North Korea, the situation on the Korean peninsula in general, and the possibility for establishing an Oriental Communist Intelligence Bureau.  Two reports on these conversations have been found in the Russian archives, one written by Shtykov in Pyongyang and one written by Kovalev in Beijing. Their contents are not identical.  The Shtykov report, written from Kim’s perspective, declared that Mao not only supported Pyongyang’s military plan, but also promised to offer military aid.  The Kovalev report, on the other hand, stated that Mao asked the North “not to launch a military attack until the moment was favorable.”  According to Kovalev, Mao explained that China could not assist North Korea until the Chinese revolution was complete, and then the matter had to be discussed with the Soviet Union.[70] A conversation between Tunkin and Kim Il Sung on 12 September 1949 makes clear that Kovalev, ’s report was more accurate. Tunkin reported that when he asked Kim “how the population will view the fact that the North began a civil war,” Kim Il Sung “vacillated.”  Kim also related to Tunkin Mao’s comment to Kim Il that  “the northerners should not begin military action now, since in the first place, it is politically disadvantageous, and in the second place, the Chinese friends are occupied at home and cannot give them serious help.”[71] These statements show that Mao was reluctant to support Kim Il Sung’s military plan.

Second, did the Chinese transfer of Korean Chinese soldiers to Korea mean that Mao had finally approved the North Korean attack on the South? Many Koreans were living in northeastern China, and many of them had joined the Chinese Communist forces in the war against Japan and in the Chinese civil war.  Some of them returned to Korea when the war against Japan was over.  After Kim Il’s conversation with Mao in the spring of 1949, the CCP sent instructions to Gao Gang, commander of PLA forces in the Northeast, to send two divisions composed of Korean Chinese soldiers in Shenyang and Changchun back to Korea.  These two divisions went to North Korea in July and August of 1949.  Then, in early 1950, Kim Il Sung dispatched Kim Kwang Hyop (head of conduct operation at the Headquarters of the General Staff) to Beijing to request that China send all remaining Korean PLA soldiers back to Korea. Consequently, approximately 23,000 Korean Chinese soldiers returned Korea in the spring of 1950.[72] Nevertheless, none of these decisions are proof that Mao supported Kim Il Sung’s plans to attack the South. Mao allowed the Korean soldiers to return to Korea because he had sympathy for the Korean revolution.  Moreover, at that time, China’s economy was in trouble.  Military expenditures amounted to 60 percent of government spending (or more, if indirect military expenditures are taken into account).[73] Demobilization was necessary after the war was over and the revolution consolidated. Sending Korean Chinese soldiers back to Korea solved part of this problem.

Third, did Stalin and Mao discuss Kim Il Sung’s military plan against South Korea in Moscow?  A. M. Ledovskii, a scholar working in the Far East Academy of Science of the Soviet Union, states that he saw two telegrams between Mao and Stalin in mid-October 1949 in the Russian Presidential archive.  In the first telegram, Mao told Stalin that the North Korea wished to solve the Korean question militarily, and that China had tried to persuade them not to do so. In his reply to Mao, Stalin said he agreed with Mao’s approach. Stalin added that since the North Korean Communists were not ready for war, the best course of action was to organize guerrilla forces in South Korea.[74] A number of other documents now prove that Mao and Stalin did not explicitly touch on military options in Korea, although they did speak of the general situation on the peninsula. When Mao was in Moscow, Stalin and Kim Il Sung discussed Kim’s military plans by telegram, and Stalin invited Kim to visit the Soviet Union.  But there is no evidence that Stalin mentioned this conversation to Mao.

Fourth, what was Mao’s own attitude toward the Korea issue during Kim Il Sung’s visit to Beijing in May 1950? According to Russian documents, Kim Il Sung told Stalin before the visit that he had decided to visit Beijing on 13 May.  Kim planned to inform Mao both of North Korea’s intention to attack the South and of the results of his conversation with Stalin.  Kim Il Sung also stated that he did not need China’s aid, because he had already received what he needed in Moscow.[75] Kim Il Sung flew to Beijing on 13 May and met with Chinese leaders that evening.  As yet, no records of the meeting are available.  According to Roshchin’s report to Moscow, however, the meeting did not go smoothly. Zhou Enlai went to the Soviet Embassy at 23:30 on 13 May in order to confirm Kim Il Sung’s suggestion that Stalin’s attitude toward Korea had changed.  Zhou stressed that Mao Zedong wished Comrade Filippov (Stalin) to clarify the situation personally.  In the telegram, Roshchin mentioned that “the Chinese comrades request an urgent answer.”[76] It was obvious that China did not believe Kim Il Sung’s suggestion that Stalin supported his plans. 

But the next day, Stalin revealed that Kim Il Sung was correct. Vyshinsky sent the following telegram to Mao:

In his conversation with the Korean comrades, Filippov and his friends expressed the opinion that, in light of the altered international situation, they support the Korean move toward reunification.  We agreed that, in the end, the question should be decided by our Chinese and Korean comrades.  If our Chinese comrades disagree, the decision on the question should be postponed for further discussion.[77]

After receiving this telegram, Mao threw his support behind Kim’s military plan.  At the same time, China accelerated preparations for the Taiwan campaign.  In his report to the Third Plenary Session of the CCP’s Seventh Central Committee in early June, Su Yu asked the Central Military Commission (CMC) to take control of the Taiwan operation.  By 23 June 1950, the CMC had changed the plan to invade Taiwan three times, and the number of PLA troops that were to be involved in the Taiwan campaign had been increased to 16 armies.[78] In other words, Mao hoped to complete his Taiwan campaign before Kim Il Sung launched his invasion of South Korea.

In sum, Stalin very cleverly manipulated the Chinese position on Korea. Stalin knew that Mao would be opposed to taking military action on the peninsula, especially since liberating Taiwan was the CCP’s top priority. But the Soviet leader also knew that the Chinese Communists wanted Soviet aid for the Taiwan campaign.[79] Stalin made three crucial moves to force China to consent to a North Korean military attack.  First, he did not discuss the matter directly with Mao, but rather with Kim Il Sung. Second, he asked Kim Il Sung to tell Mao of the decision to go forward with the attack against the south.  Faced with this fait accompli, Mao could only acquiesce. Finally, he did not divulge any details about North Korea’s military preparations and operation plans to China.[80] The Soviet Union and China had no further discussions on Korea before the outbreak of the Korean War.

It is apparent that Stalin did not trust Mao, and that the rift between China and the Soviet Union was already growing.  Stalin had two particular concerns about China’s policy toward Korea.  First, he was afraid that Mao would openly oppose any action against the South.  Second, he worried that Beijing would not shoulder the burden if something unexpected should take place.[81] The three steps Stalin took alleviated those concerns.  The Soviet Union ensured that it would retain its strategic position in the Far East, whether or not the Korean War proceeded smoothly. 

Concluding Remarks

By 1950, the Korean peninsula was on the brink of war. Stalin decided to provoke a crisis to preserve Soviet strategic interests in the Far East and to thwart U.S. influence in the region. The Sino-Soviet Treaty of Friendship, Alliance, and Mutual Assistance threatened crucial Soviet privileges in the Far East, privileges that Stalin had gained in the Yalta Conference and in the treaty he had signed with Jiang Jieshi’s GMD government.  These privileges included Port Lushun, Dalian, and the Chinese Changchun Railway, all of which were important Soviet access routes to warm water ports in the Pacific.  To regain Soviet control of warm water ports, Stalin approved Kim’s military plans in early 1950 and ultimately provoked a crisis on the Korean peninsula. 

The shift in Stalin’s Korea policy was intimately connected with evolving Sino-Soviet relations, revealing Stalin’s complicated attitudes toward the newly established Chinese Communist state. The Soviet leader certainly understood that the addition of China into the Communist camp meant that the balance of power in East Asia shifted from the United States to the Soviet Union. But Stalin also feared that China’s emergence as a Communist power could challenge the Soviet Union’s dominant position in the international Communist movement. Stalin’s new Korea policy not only served Soviet strategic interests in the Far East, but it also limited the growing power of the PRC. This assessment of Stalin’s intentions in Korea is necessarily based on inferences drawn from careful study of the available documents.  No document has yet directly confirm Stalin’s plans, and it is possible that none ever will.


[1] Ciphered telegram from Stalin to Mao Zedong, 14 May 1950, Arkhiv Prezidenta  Rossiiskoi Federatsii (APRF), Fond (F.) 45, Opis (Op.) 1, Delo (D.) 331, (L.) Listy 554.  I have collected and preserved over 500 Russian archivesdocuments  on the Korean War, from which I cited directly. On the basis of the achives collected, I edited an archival compilation, 50 nianhou de zhengju: guanyu chaoxian zhanzheng de eguo jiemi dangan (Testimony 50 Years Later: Russian Secret Documents Declassified on the Korean War) (Hong Kong: Tiandi Tushu Inc., forthcoming). I would like to thank the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, the National Security Archive and my friends Chen Jian, Kathryn Weathersby and Sergei Goncharov, for their help in providing me with copies of these documents. But some of the originals have no archival number attached. In case I cited archives that the number is missing, I use SD***** which indicates document numbers of the forthcoming book. 

[2] New works on the Korean War include Sergei Goncharov, John Lewis, and Xue Litai, Uncertain Partners: Stalin, Mao and the Korean War (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1993); Chen Jian, China’s Road to the Korean War: The Making of the Sino-American Confrontation (New York: Columbia University Press, 1994); William Stueck, The Korean War: An International History (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1995); Shu Guang Zhang, Mao’s Military Romanticism: China and the Korean War (Lawrence, KC: University of Kansas Press, 1995); A. V. Torkunov, E. P. Ufimtsev, Koreiskaya Problema : Noveii Vzglyad (The New Views about the Issue of Korea) (Moscow: “Angel” Publishing Center, 1995), and Kathryn Weathersby’s manuscript Stalin’s Last War. For Soviet foreign policy after World War II, see Vladislav Zubok and Constantine Pleshakov, Inside the Kremlin’s Cold War: From Stalin to Khrushchev (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1996); Vojtech Mastny, The Cold War and Soviet Insecurity: The Stalin Years( New York: Oxford University Press, 1996). 

[3] Many of these issues were discussed at an international conference in commemoration of the 45 anniversary of the outbreak of the Korean War and the dedication of the Korean War Memorial in Washington, DC in July 1995. Participants included Evgueni Bajanov, Chen Jian, Valeri Denissov, Sergei Goncharov, Kim Chull-baum, Kim Hak-joon, Chong-sik Lee, James Matray, John Merrill, William Stueck, Kathryn Weathersby, and Shu Guang Zhang. The discussions at the conference are skillfully summarized in Weathersby ‘s conference report, distributed by the Korea Society in Washington, DC.

[4] Goncharov et al., Uncertain Partners, pp. 151-152.

[5] John W. Garver, “Polemics, Paradigms, Responsibility and the Origins of the U.S. - PRC Confrontation in the 1950s.”  The Journal of American-East Asian Relations, Vol. 3, No. 1 (Spring 1994), pp. 27-28.

[6] Torkunov et al., The New Views about the Issue of Korea, p. 32.

[7] For discussions, see Mastny, The Cold War and Soviet Insecurity, Chapters 1 and 2; see also Zubok and Pleshakov, Inside the Kremlin’s Cold War, Chapter 2.

[8] Mastny, Stalin and Soviet Insecurity, Chapter 3; see also Shen Zhihua and Zhang Shengfa,  “From Cooperation between the Big Powers to Confrontation between the Two Camps-the Transformation of Stalin’s Post-war Foreign Policy.”  Dongou zhongya yanjiu (East Europe and Central Asia Studies, Beijing), No. 6 (1996), pp.55-66.

[9] M. Narinsky,  “Berlinnskii Krizis 1948-1949: Novyie Dokumentyi iz  Rossiiskikh Arkhivov”(The Berlin Crisis of 1948 - 1949: New Documents from Russian Archives), Novaya i Noveishaya Istoriya(Modern History, Moscow), No. 3 (1995), pp.16-29.

[10] Telegram from Vasilevskii and Shtemenko to Stalin on 20 April 1949, SD0225; Telegram from Shtykov to Vyshinsky on 20 April 1949, APRF, F. 3, Op. 65, D. 839, Ll. 13 - 14; The Report on Military Activities of South Korea from Shtykov on 21 May 1949, SD00233; Telegram from Shtykov to Vyshinsky on 18 June 1949, SD00237; Telegram from Shtykov to Vyshinsky on 13 July 1949, SD00242; see also John Merrill, Korea: The Peninsula Origins of the War (Newark: University of Delaware Press, 1989), pp. 130 -151.

[11] Telegram from A. Y. (Gromyko) to Shtykov on 17 April 1949, SD00224; Telegram from Shtykov to Vyshinsky on 18 June 1949, SD00237.

[12] Telegram from Shtykov to Stalin on 1 May 1949, APRF, F. 6, Op. 9, D. 14, L. 57; Shtemenko to Shtykov on 4 June 1949, SD00235; Park Mun Su, “Stalin’s Foreign Policy and the Korean War: History Revisited,” Korea Observer, Vol. 25, No. 3 (Summer 1994), p. 348; Torkunov et al., New Views on the Issue of Korea, p. 20.

[13] Torkunov et al., New Views on the Issue of Korea, pp. 20 - 21.

[14] Ibid. pp. 20 - 21.

[15] Ciphered telegram from Shtykov to Vyshinsky, 3 September 1949, SD00245. For the English translation of this archive, see Cold War International History Project Bulletin, No. 5 (Spring 1995),  p. 6.

[16] Telegram from Vyshinsky to Tunkin on 11 September 1949, SD00246;  telegram from Tunkin to Vyshinsky on 14 September 1949, SD00247, ibid., pp. 6 - 7.

[17] Telegram from Shtykov to Stalin on 15 September 1949, APRF, F. 3, Op. 65, D. 776, Ll. 1 - 21.

[18] The Soviet Politburo Resolution on 24 September 1949, APRF, F. 3, Op. 65, D. 776, Ll.30-32

[19] Instruction from Moscow to Soviet Embassy on 23 September 1949, APRF, F. 3, Op. 65, D. 776, Ll. 33 - 38.

[20] Telegram from Shtykov to Stalin on 4 October 1949, SD00251.

[21] Telegrams from Gromyko to Shtykov on 26 October and 20 November 1949,  SD00252, SD00254

[22] Scholars have different views about this issue. For a more detailed discussion, see Shen Zhihua, “A Comprehensive Studies on the Korean War: New documents and New Views,” Zhonggong dangshi yanjiu (CCP History Studies, Beijing), No. 6 (1996), pp. 86-90.

[23] The Communist guerrillas were most successful in the fall of 1949.  They were even able to invade large cities and fight against entire divisions of enemy forces.  But the guerrillas were suppressed by spring 1950.  See Merrill, Korea, Chapter 5; Bruce Cumings, The Origins of the Korean War (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1990), Vol. 2, Chapter 12.

[24] Ciphered telegram from Shtykov to Vyshinsky, 19 January 1950, Arkhiv Vneshnei  Politiki Possiiskoi Federatsii (AVPRF), F. 059a, Op. 5a, D. 3, Pap.(Papka) 11, Ll. 87-91.

[25] Ciphered telegram from Stalin to Shtykov, 30 January 1950, AVPRF, F. 059a, Op. 5a, D. 3, Pap. 11, L. 92.

[26] Ciphered telegram from Shtykov to Stalin on 31 January 1950, AVPRF, F. 059a, Op. 5a, D. 3, Pap. 11, L. 93; Telegram from Shtykov to Vyshinsky on 7 February 1950, AVPRF, F. 059a, Op. 5a, D. 4, Pap. 11, Ll. 145 - 146; Telegram from Vyshinsky to Shtykov on 9 February 1950, AVPRF, F. 45, Op. 1, D. 346, Ll. 76.

[27] Ciphered telegrams from Shtykov to Vasilievsky on 23 February 1950, AVPRF, F. 059a, Op. 5a, D. 3, Pap. 11, L. 148.; telegram from Shtykov to Vyshinsky, 16 March 1950, APRF, F. 45, Op. 1, D. 346, Ll. 133 - 140; and telegram from Stalin to Shtykov, 18 March 1950, APRF, F. 45, Op. 1, D. 346, L. 142.

[28] See Kathryn Weathersby, “The Soviet Role of in the Early Phase of the Korean War: New Documentary Evidence.”  The Journal of American-East Asian Relations, Vol. 2, No. 4 (Winter 1993), p. 433; see also Kim Chullbaum, ed., The Truth about the Korean War: Testimony 40 Years Later (Seoul: Eulyoo Pub. Co., 1991), pp.105-106.

[29] Weathersby, “The Soviet Role,” p. 441.

[30] Department of State, Bulletin, 16 January 1950, p. 81.

[31]Goncharov et al., Uncertain Partners, p. 101.

[32] Shi Zhe, Zai lishi juren shenbian: Shi Zhe huiyilu (At the Side of Historical Giants: Shi Zhe’s Memoirs) (Beijing: Zhongyang wenxian, 1991), pp. 454-455.

[33] Chen Jian, China’s Road to the Korean War, p. 102.

[34] Ibid., pp. 87-88.

[35] Odd Arne Westad, Cold War and Revolution: Soviet-American Rivalry and the Origins of the Chinese Civil War (New York: Columbia University Press, 1993), Chapter 3;  see also Shen Zhihua, “The Soviet Entry into China’s Northeast: Its Goals and Results,”  Lishi yanjiu (Historical Studies, Beijing), No. 5 (1994), pp. 85-103.

[36] “Communications between Mao and Stalin: Seven Telegrams, January 1949,” trans. by Song Datu, Chinese Historians, Vol. 7, No. 1-2 (Spring and Fall 1994), pp. 163-172.

[37] Ivan V. Kovalev, “Istoriya i sovremennost’: Dialog Stalina s Mao Tszedunom,” Problemy Dal’nego vostoka,(Far Eastern Affair, Moscow) Nos. 1 – 2 (1992), p. 87; Andrei Ledovskii, “Sekretnaya missiya Mikoyana v Kitai,” Problemy Dal’nego vostoka, No. 2 (1995), p. 107. Shi Zhe, Mao’s Russian language interpreter, refused to acknowledge that Mao asked Mikoyan about the issue of Mongolia, but he admitted that Liu Shaoqi did raise this issue of Mongolia in the name of non-governmental persons during his visit in Moscow in July 1949.  Li Haiwen, “A Distortion of History: An Interview with Shi Zhe about Kovalev’s Recollections,” Chinese Historians, Vol. 5, No. 2 (Fall 1992), pp. 59-64.

[38] Ledovskii, “Sekretnaya missiya,” Problemy Dal’nego vostoka, No. 2, p. 106; Kovalev, “ Istoriya i sovremennost’,” p. 87.

[39] Deng Liqun, “Before and After the Liberation of Xinjiang: A Chapter of the Sino-Soviet Relations,” Jindai shi yanjiu (Modern Chinese History Studies, Beijing), No. 5 (1989),  pp. 143 - 150; Goncharov et al., Uncertain Partners, p. 70.

[40] See Ledovskii, “Sekretnaya missiya,” Problemy Dal’nego vostoka, No. 2, pp. 106-107 and No. 3 (1995), p. 101.

[41] Hu Qiaomu, Hu Qiaomu huiyi Mao Zedong (Mao Zedong in Hu Qiaomu’s Memory) (Beijing: People’s Press, 1994), pp. 550-551.

[42] Goncharov et al., Uncertain Partners, p. 68.

[43] Boris Kulik, “Kitaiskaya Narodnaya Respublika v Period Stanovleniya, 1949-1952” (The People’s Republic of China in Its Early Period, 1949-1952)Problemy Dal’nego vostoka, No. 6 (1994), p. 76.  Also see Goncharov et al., Uncertain Partners, p. 83.

[44] See “Stalin’s Conversations with Chinese Leaders,” Cold War International History Project Bulletin, Nos. 6 - 7 (Winter 1995/1996), p. 5.

[45] Pei Jianzhang, ed., Zhonghua renmin gongheguo waijiao shi, 1949-1956 (A Diplomatic History of the People’s Republic of China from 1949 to 1956) (Beijing: Shijie Zhishi Press, 1994), pp. 17 - 18.

[46] Ledovskii, “Stalin’s Dialogues,” pp. 88 - 89.

[47] Pei Jianzhang, Zhonghua renmin gongheguo waijiao shi, p. 19.

[48] Shi Zhe, Zai lishi juren shenbian, p. 440; Zhonggong Zhongyang Wenxian Yanjiushi (Chinese Communist Party Document Research Center), Jianguo yilai Mao Zedong wengao (Mao Zedong’s Manuscripts since the Founding of the PRC) (Beijing: Zhongyang Wenxian Press,  1992), Vol. 1, p. 212.

[49] Odd Arne Westad, “The Sino-Soviet Alliance and the United States: War, Politics, and Perceptions, 1950 – 1961,” paper presented to CWIHP conference on “The Cold War and Asia,” Hong Kong, January 1996.

[50] Kulik, “People’s Republic,” p. 76.

[51] Jianguo yilai Mao Zedong wengao, Vol. 1, p. 206.

[52] Pei Jianzhang, Zhonghua renmin gongheguo waijiao shi, pp. 96, 120, 308.

[53] Kulik, “People’s Republic,” p. 77.

[54] See Goncharov et al., Uncertain Partners, pp. 247 - 248.

[55]  “Stalin’s Conversations with Mao Zedong,” 22 January 1950, AVPRF, F. 45, Op. 1, D. 329, Ll. 29 - 38.

[56] Pei Jianzhang, Zhonghua renmin gongheguo waijiaoshi, p. 25.

[57] Zhonggong Zhongyang Bianyiju(Central Translation and Editing Office, Chinese Communist Party), Selected Works of Stalin (Beijing: People’s Press, 1962), Vol.2, pp. 438 - 439.

[58]  Stalin’s Conversations with the Korean Delegation, 5 March 1949, APRF, F. 45, Op. 1, D. 346, Ll. 13 - 23.

[59] Zhukov and Zabrodin, “Korea, Short Report,” 29 June 1945, AVPRF, F.0430, Op. 2, D. 18, Pap. 5, Ll.18-30

[60] “Notes on the Question of Former Japanese Colonies and Mandated Territories,” September 1945, cited from “Soviet Aims in Korea and the Origins of the Korean War, 1945 - 1950: New Evidence from Russian Archives,” by Kathryn Weathersby, in Cold War International History Project, Working paper, No. 8, pp. 9 - 10.

[61] Ibid. pp. 10 -11.

[62] Central Translation and Editing Office, Chinese Communist Party, A Collection of Lenin’s Works (Beijing: People’s Press, 1990), Vol. 54, p. 777.

[63] Dmitri Volkogonov, “Sleduet li Zetogo Boyat'sya?”(Should We Fear This?) Ogonek(Flake, Moscow), No. 26 (June 1993), p. 28

[64] Telegram from Vyshinsky to Tunkin on 11 September 1949, SD00246; Telegram from Tunkin to Vyshinsky on 14 September 1949, SD00247.

[65] Weathersby, “The Soviet Role,” p. 433.

[66] Vladimir Petrov, “Soviet Role in the Korean War Confirmed: Secret Documents Declassified,” Journal of Northeast Asian Studies, Vol. 13, No. 3 (Fall 1994), pp. 63 - 67; Kim Chullbaum, The Truth about the Korean War, pp. 143 - 155.

[67] Goncharov et al., Uncertain Partners, p. 145; also see Kim Chullbaum, The Truth about the Korean War, p. 106.

[68] Ciphered telegram from Stalin to Mao on 14 May 1950, in Cold War International History Project Bulletin, No. 4 (Fall 1994), p. 61.

[69] For discussions about the PLA’s failed invasion of the GMD-controlled Jinmen (Quemoy) Island in October 1949 and its impact upon Mao’s Taiwan strategy, see He Di, “The Last Campaign to Unify China: The CCP’s Unmaterialized Campaign to Liberate Taiwan,” Chinese History, Vol. 5, No. 1 (Spring 1992), pp.1-16 ; see also Chen Jian, China’s Road to the Korean War, Chapter 4.

[70] Telegram from Shtykov to Vyshinsky on 15 May 1949, SD00231; Kovalev to Filippov on 18 May 1949, APRF, F. 45, Op. 1, D. 331, Ll. 59 - 61.

[71] Ciphered telegram from Tunkin to Soviet Foreign Ministry, 14 September 1949, SD00247, For the English translation of this archive, see Cold War International History Project Bulletin, No. 5 (Spring 1995), p. 7.

[72] See the details from the telegram to Shtykov on 8 January 1950, SD00257; Shtykov’s telegram on 11 January 1950, SD00258. See also Nie Rongzhen, Niu Rongzhen huiyilu (Memoirs of Nie Rongzhen) (Beijing: Jiefangjun, 1982), p. 774; Chen Jian, China’s Road to the Korean War, pp. 109 - 110.

[73] Chen Yun, “Overcome Serious Financial Difficulties,” 8 August 1949; “No Government Bonds to Supplement Financial Deficit,” 2 December 1949, Zhonghua renmin gonghegong jingji dang’an ziliao xuanbian, 1949-1951 (Selected Economic Archival Records of the People’s Republic of China from 1949 to 1951) (Beijing: Zhongguo chengshi shehui jingji, 1990), pp. 117, 114 - 115, 120.

[74] Author’s interview with A. Ledovskii, 31 July 1996, Moscow.

[75] Telegram from Shtykov to Vyshinsky on 12 May 1950, AVPRF, F. 059a, Op. 5a, D. 3, Pap. 11, Ll. 100 - 103.

[76] Ciphered telegram from Roshchin to Filippov on 13 May 1950, SD00278. For the English translation of this archive, see in Cold War International History Project Bulletin, No. 4 (Fall 1994), p. 61.

[77] Ciphered telegram from Filippov to Mao on 14 May 1950, APRF, F. 45, Op. 1, D. 331, L. 55.

[78] He Di, “The Last Campaign to Unify China,” pp. 14-15.

[79] M. S. Kapitsa recalls that the Soviet Union knew Mao’s objection to Kim’s plan, see Goncharov et al., Uncertain Partners, p. 147.

[80] A high ranking North Korean officer recalled that all the military equipment that Moscow gave to Pyongyang went to Korea through sea.  The purpose was to keep China away.  See Goncharov et al., Uncertain Partners, pp. 153 and 163.

[81] Actually, Stalin did not have worry about the latter.  Stalin changed his view on Mao when China decided to help North Korea when China was facing a disadvantageous situation.  Moscow and Beijing started their real cooperation after China’s participation in the War.  I will discuss this issue in another article.




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