Korean War Series: 17 January 1950: Kim Seeks Invasion Approval.

“The people of the southern portion of Korea trust me and rely on our armed might. Partisans will not decide the question. The people of the south know that we have a good army. Lately I do not sleep at night, thinking about how to resolve the question of the unification of the whole country. If the matter of the liberation of the people of the southern portion of Korea and the unification of the country is drawn out, then I can lose the trust of the people of Korea.”
Kim Il Sung 1950

Democratic People’s Republic of Korea Leader Kim Il Sung.

On 17 January 1950, during a luncheon with Soviet and Chinese officials in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), Kim Il Sung spoke of reunification of the Korean Peninsula. This luncheon was hosted as a farewell to Ri Ju-yeon, a DPRK ambassador who was heading to the Chinese People’s Republic. We have accounts of what took place during this luncheon from a Soviet diplomat who was in attendance who sent a telegram to the Soviet government two days later detailing the conversations had.

The description of the overall feeling of the luncheon was one of a friendly atmosphere by those in attendance. Kim spoke highly of Joseph Stalin, who he credited with the liberation of the Korean people from the Japanese. Keep in mind, the Soviets declared war on Japan on August 9th 1945, shortly after the first atomic bomb was dropped. They rushed into the north of Korea to accept the surrender of the Japanese there while the Americans did the same in the southern portion. To the Communist mind of Kim Il Sung, however, the Soviets truly liberated the “real” Korea. Turning to the Chinese trade delegate in attendance, Kim discussed the victory of the Chinese Communists over the Nationalists in October. Using it as an opportunity to push his own agenda, Kim discussed the “liberation” of his own nation. He stated that with China liberated, it was time to liberate the south of Korea. Obviously emboldened by the United States Secretary of State not listing Korea as part of America’s Pacific Perimeter during the 12 January speech at the National Press Club, (covered in a previous blog) he told those in attendance the following:
“The people of the southern portion of Korea trust me and rely on our armed might. Partisans will not decide the question. The people of the south know that we have a good army. Lately I do not sleep at night, thinking about how to resolve the question of the unification of the whole country. If the matter of the liberation of the people of the southern portion of Korea and the unification of the country is drawn out, then I can lose the trust of the people of Korea.”

Soviet Union Leader Joseph Stalin.
South Korean President Syngmann Rhee.

Kim told the Soviet officials that Stalin had told him in order to attack the South Korean forces, Syngmann Rhee would have to have been the aggressor. Kim further explained that he knew his forces were stronger than Rhee’s, so an attack from Rhee was not likely. Kim expressed that he felt he would lose the support of the Koreans in the southern portion of the peninsula if he continued to wait for Rhee to attack. He wanted to liberate the south the same way Mao’s forces had liberated China. Kim felt that he needed to go back to the Soviet Union and meet with Stalin again to gain approval for the liberation. An interesting aspect of this was Kim’s declaration to the Soviet delegates that since he was a communist and a disciplined person, he would not act unless Stalin gave the go ahead. He solidified his idea by stating if he couldn’t meet with Stalin, then he would meet with Mao, securing at least Mao’s approval in lieu of Stalin’s.

Chairman Mao Zedong of the People’s Republic of China.

The two Soviet delegates tried to shift the conversation but Kim was persistent. He proposed attacking the Ongjin Peninsula, on the western portion of Korea, a short distance from the South Korean capital of Seoul. Kim stated that his forces could take the peninsula easily and secure Seoul in three days. The Soviet delegates advised against this, citing the need to seek counsel from Stalin first. The delegates told Kim that they would secure a meeting with Stalin for Kim in which they could discuss Kim’s plan. This seemed to please Kim and to the Soviet delegates it seemed he had been formulating this conversation for quite some time.

This was the first open discussion of Kim Il Sung’s plan of “liberating” all of Korea to foreign officials. This conversation thus became the starting point of weeks of telegrams and messages between Kim and the Soviet and Chinese leadership concerning a North Korean invasion of the South. Kim would persist, wanting to use the might of his Soviet trained and equipped military to bring all Koreans under the flag of Communism. By early spring 1950, Kim had secured support from Stalin and Mao for his plan of liberating South Koreans.