The US and Soviet Policies Toward Korea

The US is the first Western power who opened Korea to the outside world and brought Korea modernity. However, Korea was not a foreign policy priority for the US until the Korean War in 1950 with the US’ sudden decision of entering the war. The main purpose of the US was to inhibit the communist powers’ diffusion in East Asia in order to continue its capitalist purposes. 

While Korea was insignificant to America, America was significant to Korea because Korea perceived the US as a great power which can protect the country’s independence against China, Japan, and Russia and provide modernity to it. However, the problem in Korea’s struggles to secure US’ help to Korea’s independence was the main target of the western foreign policies is to seek economic opportunities in China and diplomatic relations with Japan. The West saw these two as a danger for their Great Power status. It shows that Korea misinterpreted the real intentions of the US. In fact, US collaborated with Japan who had territorial claims of Korean land and Roosevelt supported the idea of Japanese hegemony on Korea. This attitude of the US did not change much in the following years. For instance, during the March First Independence Movement, the US ignored Koreans. However, Japan’s rejection from the League of Nations by racist reasons, Japan attacked the US in 1941 and the picture changed. The US wanted to take Korea from Japan and in the Cairo Declaration thus, Korea’s freedom and independence in due course have been argued. In due course meant, immediately after Japan’s downfall. They needed an international trusteeship before full independence. 

This declaration was made by Roosevelt, Churchill and Chiang Kai- Shek without the participation of Stalin. Although the declaration was made without him, the three leaders reserved the place for Soviet participation in the proposed trusteeship but the important point was, Russia was not in a war yet. This declaration was very important to Korea in terms of its future because it caused a vague future for the country and provided to Great Powers to interrupt their internal affairs for their own benefits and thus, made the US and Soviet relations even more complicated. Although this declaration was made in absence of Stalin, Soviet had a natural right for occupying Korea due to a given role in the declaration.

 Since the Cairo Declaration, the next stage in the evolution of the US policy toward Korea was the Yalta Conference on February 1945. In this conference, Roosevelt, Stalin, and Churchill agreed for a trusteeship system. Roosevelt took Stalin’s promise to enter the war against Japan. Stalin’s conditions were: Sakhalin and Kuril Islands, lease of Port Arthur, Dairen, southern portions of Manchurian railways and Soviet influence in Mongolia and Manchuria. Thus, the Red Army began its campaign against the Japanese ruled Korea and occupied Korea from the North. 

As a matter of fact, diplomatic relations between Korea and Russia were established in 1884. Despite this date, Russia’s interest in Korea began earlier by trade. After Sino- Japanese war, Japan’s imperialistic designs on East Asia began to worry Russia. Subsequently, Russia has political influence in Korea until the end of  World War II and King Kojong, turned his face to Russia against Japan. With the anti-Japanese queen’s murder, Korean king resided in the Russian Legation. By this time, there were modernization studies and Russian language school, a Russian bank, financial advisory, a military advisory was established. But this Russian period did not last long because of the Korean nationalist movement. The king attempted to establish an independent Korea. However, the fate of Korea was in between Russia and Japan and it ended with the Russo-Japanese war. This war caused the rise of Japan as a great power in terms of its imperialistic aims. Since this victory was the first time obtained by a non-western country, it gave hope to many non-western countries. After 1910, although Russia maintained no diplomatic presence in Korea, Soviet Russia had an active interest to it rather than Tsarist Russia. And with the Marxist-Leninist point of view, Soviet orientalists have focused of national liberation in the non-Western world so as Korea. It can be learned much about Soviet policies to Korea from Soviet studies in Korea. There were two characteristics of foreign policy toward Korea. A concern with preventing recurrence of attack on the Soviet Far East from any future aggressor, and Stalin’s flexibility and opportunism in pursuit of this goal. The main concern of it was national security.

In conclusion, Stalin’s Korea policy and American policy towards Korea depended on the US-Soviet relations after Yalta. If Stalin had not carried out the promises that he made at Yalta, it would absolutely affect the future of US – Soviet relations in Korea. Both the US and Soviet’s desire for hegemony affected Korea as the other countries who were weaker than US and Soviet in terms of military power. The sudden death of Roosevelt and dropping of atomic bombs on Japan changed the destiny. Korea should not have trusted to the US back at that time, and an isolation policy might have been better for the unification within the country.

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