The Effects of US-China Rivalry on the Security of the North Pacific

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The United States of America (USA)-China rivalry is making its impact felt more and more in different parts of the world day by day. This situation, especially felt on the political fault lines where the parties are neighbors, affects the economic and political atmosphere of other parts of the world and shapes the decisions made by the states. Because the USA which still has the title of the world’s largest economy even though it has a trade deficit and China which is growing gradually and will surpass the USA economy in the future according to the estimations, means both a critical investor and a security guarantee for many countries.

One of the most obvious examples of the situation is taking place in the North Pacific region. The region is the place where the competition of the Washington-Beijing is felt most intensely due to both the political fault lines it has and the economic giants it contains. In particular, the perception of security shaped around Taiwan and North Korea and the increasing economic intensity in the China-Japan-South Korea triangle can affect global balances. This worries all states about the developments centered on the North Pacific. As a matter of fact, the supply chain disruptions experienced during the Covid-19 epidemic caused a global crisis and set an important example in understanding the sensitivity of the region.

Looking at the security equation emerging over Taiwan and North Korea, it is clearly understood how dangerous the crises in the region can be when combined with the economic conflict situation. For example, in response to the sanctions imposed by the Washington administration on Huawei and ZTE that are Chinese origin companies in November 2022 due to the ongoing trade wars between the USA and China, China[1]  on May 22, 2023, announced sanctions on Micron the US semiconductor manufacturer  by expressing that the company poses a great risk with its products for China’s information and national security.[2] It is clear that not only the USA will be affected by the sanctions but also South Korea will have to choose a side in this case.

While it is a question of whether the Seoul administration will continue to sell chips to its largest trading partner, the South Korean Ministry of Foreign Affairs stated that the interests of national companies will be protected by diplomatic methods.[3] It can be determined that South Korea, which acts with the motto of “Korea First!” in its foreign policy, is adversely affected by the US-China rivalry. Because South Korea, an ally of the USA, realized 155.8 billion dollars worth of exports to China in 2022 with the effect of the “Free Trade Agreement” that entered into force in 2015.[4] In addition, the fact that this export was made at a time when chip exports were on the decline and that 55% of the total chip exports realized to China,[5] reveals the size of the trade volume.

On the North Korea side, military developments continue unabated. The Pyongyang administration, which has been carrying out missile launches and nuclear tests for a long time, has caused global concerns with its first spy satellite launch action[6] on May 31, 2023. For this reason, the United States and its allies within the United Nations (UN) framework argued that North Korea should be condemned. But China and Russia refused this request.[7] Moreover, Kim Yo-jong, the sister of North Korean leader Kin Jong Un, stated that North Korea will carry out a new launch and strongly condemned the discussions within the framework of the UN by claiming that the UN was acting as a political appendage of the USA.[8]

In this context, it can be thought that China and Russia implicitly supported North Korea and thus its military activities as a result of their rivalry with the USA. This support may cause North Korea to focus its attention on its military actions in the region. This could put more pressure on the already fragile security environment.

Another reason why the region is economically and politically fragile is the Taiwan Question. As it is known, the Taiwan Question has a long history and its roots go back to the Chinese Civil War (1927 -1949). The economic and commercial potential that Taiwan has gained after this period shows that almost all countries have to develop their technological relations with Taiwan. Besides being one of the most successful economies in Asia with its multinational companies, Taiwan is also in an indispensable position for the US-led West that wants to surround China geographically.

The fact that Taiwan is so important economically and geostrategically and that the Taiwan Problem is directly related to China makes Taiwan a part of the US-China rivalry. In this context, it is significant that the parties constantly warn each other regarfing Taiwan. For instance, US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin warned China at the Shengri-La Security Summit on June 3, 2023, attended by many countries including China, and emphasized that a conflict in the Taiwan Strait would have devastating effects and damage the global supply chain.[9] Following Austin’s statements at the same summit, Chinese Defense Minister Li Shangfu clearly stated that Taiwan is at the center of China’s interests and that only Beijing will decide how to solve this problem.[10]

In addition, considering the Taiwan-US trade agreement signed on June 1, 2023 despite China’s objections,[11] it can be seen that Washington is ready to use all the trump cards in its rivalry with Beijing, at the same time, trying to deter China from any military action.

To summarize, the US-China rivalry makes its impact felt in many areas and in various parts of the world. One of the regions most affected by this situation is the North Pacific area, because it is at the center of technological developments, and it has high economic developments. It is observed that the political fault lines in the region have become even more fragile with the effect of the USA-China rivalry. This can lead to negative consequences at the global level.

[1] Christy Lee, “China’s Micron Chips Ban Is Litmus Test for South Korea”, VoA,, (Erişim Tarihi: 06.01.2023).

[2] Dan Milmo-Graeme Wearden, “China Bans US Chipmaker Micron from Vital Infrastructure projects”, The Guardian,, (Erişim Tarihi: 22.05.2023).

[3] Lee, a.g.m.

[4]“Value of Goods Exported from South Korea to China from 2000 to 2022”, Statista,,about%20155.8%20billion%20U.S.%20dollars., (Erişim Tarihi: 01.06.2023).

[5] “BOK Report Says Korean Semiconductor Exports Overly Dependent on China, US”,Business Korea,, (Erişim Tarihi: 04.06.2023).

[6] Hyung-Jin Kim-Kim Tong-Hyung, “North Korea Spy Satellite Launch Fails as Rocket Falls into the Sea”, AP News,, (Erişim Tarihi:32.05.2023).

[7] “US, Allies Clash with Russia, China over North Korea’s Failed Military Spy Satellite Launch”, AP News,, (Erişim Tarihi: 03.06.2023).

[8] Hyung-Jin Kim, “North Korean Leader’s Sister Vows 2nd Attempt to Launch Spy Satellite, Slams UN Meeting”, ABC News,, (Erişim Tarihi: 04.06.2023).

[9] Haley Britzky-Brad Lendon, “Taiwan War Would be ‘Devastating,’ Warns US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin as He Criticizes China at Shangri-La Security Summit” CNN,, (Erişim Tarihi: 03.06.2023).

[10] “China Could Use Force to Take Taiwan over: Defense Minister”, La Prensa Latina,, (Erişim Tarihi: 04.06.2023).

[11] “US-Taiwan Relations: New Trade Deal Signed as China Tensions Rise”, BBC,, (Erişim Tarihi: 02.06.2023).

Elcan TOKMAK, 2022 yılında Gazi Üniversitesi İktisadi İdari Bilimler Fakültesi Uluslararası İlişkiler Bölümü'nden mezun olmuştur. Eylül-Aralık 2022 tarihleri arasında ANKASAM bünyesinde Kariyer Staj Programı'nı tamamlayan Tokmak, Temmuz 2023 tarihinden itibaren ANKASAM Asya-Pasifik Araştırma Asistanı olarak çalışmalarını sürdürmektedir. Şu anda Hacettepe Üniversitesi Uluslararası İlişkiler Bölümü'nde Yüksek Lisans eğitimine devam eden Tokmak'ın ilgi alanları Çin-Japonya-Kore ilişkileri ve Çin Dış Politikası'dır. Tokmak; profesyonel düzeyde İngilizce, orta derecede Çince ve başlangıç düzeyinde Korece bilmektedir.