The Western Pacific D+14 (23 July, 1987)

Tension along the Sino-Soviet frontier continued to lessen on D+14. The periodic exchanges of small arms and mortar fire that were so common on D+12 disappeared. Chinese and Soviet troops remained vigilant, but their aggressiveness seemed to have plateaued by late morning. Unbeknownst to the soldiers on the ground at the time, Beijing and Moscow were developing serious reservations about escalating the present situation.

For the Soviets, supporting North Korea in the conflict on the Korean Peninsula was fast becoming an expensive side project with little upside. Continuing to supply the North Koreans with war material did not automatically guarantee an imminent victory. In fact, the tide appeared to be steadily turning in favor of the South Koreans and their US allies. The North Korean push towards Seoul had slowed down immeasurably, partly due to strong enemy resistance on the ground, but mostly because the flow of fuel, and other supplies south to the frontline was being disrupted by US and ROK airpower. Soviet resupply efforts were already requiring the commitment of a large number of warplanes, and warships for protection. Increasing the flow of weapons, material, and fuel only meant that more Soviet units were going to be needed.

The incidents between Soviet and Chinese warplanes were more disquieting. Moscow could ill-afford a major conflict with China at this point. Skirmishes in the air would progress to skirmishes at sea, if the situation was not remedied. And it went without saying that skirmishes along the border would follow, inevitably bringing on a major conflict between the two communist powers. The Soviet Union could ill afford that right now. The Kremlin’s attention was overwhelmingly focused on Europe, as was the bulk of Soviet conventional military might. Keeping North Korea supplied was not reason enough to risk a war with China. Consequently, by order of the Defense Ministry as well as the General Staff, the number of supply shipments to North Korea was drastically reduced on D+13. No justification or explanation for the change was given to Pyongyang.

It was also in the People’s Republic of China’s best interest to deescalate tensions with the Soviet Union. Beijing’s outlook was somewhat more far-sighted than Moscow’s. Eventually, this war would draw to a close and unless a nuclear exchange occurred, a clear winner would emerge from the conflict. China’s leaders were increasingly expecting the United States to fill that role. In the post-war period the global order was going to require a rebuild and China was preparing to be a major power by the turn of the century. Every political, and military decision made now would be made with tomorrow’s goals in mind.  

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