How did the Korean War affect Sino-American relations and shape foreign policies between the two countries?
The Korean War, also known as the Forgotten War, represents an important turning point in the Cold War. It was fought from the 25th of June 1950 to the 27th of July 1953. Although this war only lasted three years, many would argue that it had extremely important and lasting effects on the Cold War in general, as well as the foreign relations between China and the United States. The Korean War was the first proxy war to be fought in the Cold War and marked the Cold War’s global expansion. Although the name suggests it to be a civil war between North and South Korea, in actual fact it was the start of a global confrontation that caused huge numbers of casualties and injuries for both the People’s Republic of China (PRC) and the United States.
On the American front, the Korean War brought about changes in international policies and helped form many of the policies widely associated with the Cold War today. The Korean War helped shape the course of the cold war by both resolving the disorganization, which characterized the US foreign, and defense efforts in the period 1946 – 1950 and establishing important new lines of policy. If the war had not taken place, there may not have been any other event that could have produced the effects that Korea did. It could be said that without Korea, international history would have been very different. Some important American policies during the Cold War include: A high degree of discord with the USSR, substantial perceived threat of war, high defense budgets, large number of armies in Europe, the perception of friendly Sino-Soviet relations, the belief that limited wars were a major danger, anti-Communist sentiments all over the globe. Although the first two points were arguably already present before the Korean War, the later points only came to be during and after the Korean War. In the case of the U.S., the Korean War gave the decision makers the motivation and freedom to do as they wished – create and push certain policies they were unable to, or had no legitimate reason to, before the war. Therefore it could be said that the Korean War brought about the policies that are associated with the Cold War. It also left the U.S. with long-lasting or even permanent commitments in Asia that previously could not be imagined – perhaps even to the Americans themselves.
Mao’s decision to enter the war may have been because he feared that a South Korean victory would push the Korean forces and thus the American forces right up to the Chinese boarders. He saw this as a threat to Chinese security. However, the Americans did not think they were acting hostile to the Chinese by aiding the South Koreans, therefore when the Chinese ‘voluntary troops’ joined the war; the U.S. had the impression that the communists were actively seeking a war with the non-communist nations and the threat of communism was heightened. Spread of U.S. commitments in the Asia Pacific was also sped up by the changing perceptions of China. It is possible that both China and the U.S. had slight misunderstandings of each other’s intentions and this resulted in an over-estimation of hostility. While Chinese leaders perceived the American progression to the Yalu River as a step closer for the American threat to perhaps harm China, the U.S. didn’t quite see the degree of fear for threatened security felt by the Chinese by their advance to the Yalu River. This may have been because they thought that the Chinese knew they were not a threat towards them – though the Chinese did not agree.
On the other hand, right after the war started in Korea, Truman interposed a fleet between Formosa (Taiwan) and the mainland and in doing so may or may not have paid attention to how the Chinese might react. Therefore the Americans did not understand the increase in Sino-American tensions and thought that the problems were...
References: Chen Jian, Mao’s China and the Cold War (United States: The University of North Carolina Press, 2001)
e-International Relations, “The Cold War and Chinese Foreign Policy.” Last modified July 2008.
John Lewis Gaddis, The Cold War: A New History (New York: The Penguin Press, 2001)
Robert Jervis, “The Impact of the Korean War on the Cold War,” The Journal of Conflict Resolution (1980), accessed November 17, 2009
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