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Asia-Pacific Security in the South Korea-Taiwan-US Context

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South Korea’s Court of Appeal overturned the conviction of a local company accused of violating trade laws for its work on Taiwan’s new submarine program. Prosecutors had accused marine technology company SI Innotec of supplying submarine production equipment to Taiwan without government approval.[1]

In 2022, a lower court found SI Innotec guilty and gave a company official a suspended prison sentence. The company pleaded not guilty and argued that the equipment was not designed solely for military purposes and did not contain sensitive technology.[2]

South Korean authorities have accused SI Innotec for its work on Taiwan’s submarine project, citing the risk of economic retaliation from China. Two other South Korean companies, Keumha Marine Technology (KHNT) and S2&K, have also been charged with violating trade laws for their work on Taiwan’s submarine program. One of the company executives also faced charges of industrial espionage. Amid growing military tensions with China, Taiwan unveiled its first home-built submarine on September 28, 2023 in the southern port city of Kaohsiung.[3]

South Korea’s military cooperation with Taiwan may affect regional security dynamics. South Korea’s policies in this regard are particularly noteworthy given the conjunctural rivalry with China. This may highlight the delicate balancing acts between the countries and the diplomatic strategies necessary to maintain regional stability.

In this context, it can be argued that Seoul does not want to draw Beijing’s reaction on Taipei first. Indeed, China is a very important power both globally and regionally. Although South Korea is in the Western Bloc, it is estimated that it would not want to enter into such a competition with China.

South Korea’s risk of economic retaliation against China in this case could affect the country’s economic interests. The violation of trade laws and China’s potential response could have a significant impact on South Korea’s foreign trade strategies. This could mean that Seoul would prioritize its relations with Beijing. Indeed, South Korea’s accusations against the company for supplying military ammunition to Taiwan shows the importance that Seoul attaches to its relations with China.

Moreover, it can be argued that South Korea’s alliance relationship with the United States (US) and the Western Bloc is mainly driven by threats emanating from North Korea. Indeed, South Korea is one of the states that most closely feels the threat from North Korea, both in terms of its geopolitical position and ideological and historical sensitivities. This inevitably pushes Seoul to Washington’s side. On the other hand, South Korea plays an important role in the US strategy to contain China. Seoul, on the other hand, tries to avoid following Washington’s Beijing policies as much as possible.

Going back to the South Korea-Taiwan issue, American influence can also be seen here. This can also be analyzed in the context of international trade law. The conviction and subsequent appeal of the South Korean company can be evaluated on the legal basis of trade between countries. It is also important to examine the implications of similar situations for future international trade relations.

Technology transfer in strategically important projects, such as submarine production, can affect national security and military capacity. This highlights the risks associated with technology transfer and the intelligence competition between countries. South Korea’s strategy in this regard is important in terms of pursuing national interests. In order to avoid tensions with Beijing and a backlash from China, Seoul criticized the company’s arms-based relations with Taiwan and used legal means to do so.

Moreover, the fact that the Asia-Pacific is mainly composed of island states increases the importance of naval forces, submarines and navies in the context of regional influence and military forces. These positions the submarines provided to Taiwan as more than just an ordinary military procurement and agreement.

How the media and public opinion react to this incident is also important. Indeed, all of these elements suggest that this is more than just a legal case, but one that involves a complex set of diplomatic, security and economic issues.

In conclusion, although South Korea has close relations with the United States, it is understood that the main purpose of this alliance for Seoul is to ensure its own security against North Korea. In this context, it can be argued that South Korea primarily considers its own national interests in its relations with China and does not want to experience tension with it.


[1] “S.Korea Court Overturns Conviction Against Contractor on Taiwan Submarines”, Reuters, https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/skorea-court-overturns-conviction-against-contractor-taiwan-submarines-2024-01-12/, (Date of Accession: 12.01.2024).

[2] Ibıd.

[3] Ibıd.

Zeki Talustan GÜLTEN
Zeki Talustan GÜLTEN
Zeki Talustan Gülten graduated from Yalova University, Faculty of Economics and Administrative Sciences, Department of International Relations in 2021 with his graduation thesis titled "American Foreign Policy" and from Anadolu University, Open Education Faculty, Department of Foreign Trade in 2023. Gülten, who is currently pursuing her Master's Degree with Thesis at Marmara University Institute of Social Sciences, Department of International Relations, was a student at the Faculty of International and Political Studies at Lodz University for a semester within the framework of the Erasmus+ program during her undergraduate education. Working as an Asia-Pacific Research Assistant at ANKASAM, Gülten's main areas of interest are American Foreign Policy, Asia-Pacific and International Law. Gülten is fluent in English.