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China’s False Allegations of the Use of Biological Weapons by the United States during the Korean War

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On the early morning of June 25, 1950, North Korean military units, using Soviet supplied tanks and heavy artillery, invaded South Korea all along the 38th parallel. Kim Il Sung, North Korea’s leader, had been asking Stalin for permission to invade the South since March 1949, but his initial proposals were turned down. After the Chinese Communists achieved victory in October 1949, a second appeal by Kim in April 1950 was approved. In the months leading up to June 1950, Soviet supply trains full of arms and munitions began to flow to North Korea, while divisions composed of ethnic Koreans who had fought with Mao Zedong’s forces in China were transferred to North Korea’s armies. At the same time, senior Soviet military officers devised the North Korean invasion plan and trained North Korea’s armies. After June 25, the United States and United Nations forces entered the war on behalf of the south; Chinese armies and the Soviet Air Force fought on behalf of the north. The war lasted until July 1953, and ended only with an armistice, not a peace treaty. Both Koreas—north and south—were totally devastated, and as many as 4.5 million people died during the war. The Korean Peninsula remains destabilized to the present day. With North Korea’s development of nuclear weapons and intermediate range ballistic missiles since 2009, it promises to remain so for the foreseeable future. A little remembered aspect of the Korean War is an issue of great importance to those concerned with arms control and allegations of the use of Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD), namely nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons. During and after the war, North Korea, China, and the Soviet Union alleged that the United States used biological weapons (BW) on an enormous scale in areas of both China and North Korea. Despite the public disclosure of Soviet Central Committee documents in 1998—eighteen years ago—which revealed that the allegations were fraudulent, China and, much more noisily, North Korea still maintain the charges. The purpose of this Working Paper is to describe recent publications in Chinese journals of an unprecedented nature on the subject. A memoir by Wu Zhili, Director of the Chinese People’s Volunteer Army Health Division during the Korean War, describes the allegations as a “false alarm” and reveals that there was no use of biological weapons by the Americans in the war. Although he does not go as far as to admit that the allegations were really active fraud and disinformation, much of his narrative makes that evident. Two other publications by Qu Aiguo, a Senior Colonel affiliated with the PLA Academy of Military Science History, evaluate, for the first time, the Soviet documents released in 1998. Qu moves away from the standard-line that “the US used BW against China and North Korea” and concludes that “we cannot deny that the Americans used BW.” Although only a change of a few words, it is a significant shift in the Chinese presentation of the issue. Nevertheless, it remains dishonest. In addition to discussing these new Chinese writings about the BW allegations, the Working Paper reproduces a number of newly declassified documents which demonstrate the extent of communications between Mao, Stalin, and Zhou Enlai, as well as two documents which authenticate the 1998 Soviet documents which disproved the allegations. Based on what we know about the US BW program in 1952 as well as the proof contained in the Soviet Central Committee documents released in 1998, the Working Paper concludes that the Korean War BW allegations against the US, an accusation of the use of a weapon of mass destruction, were false, a grand piece of political theater.

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