KAOHSIUNG, TAIWAN (AP) – The President of Taiwan on Tuesday opened the production of domestically made submarines in the southern city of Kaohsiung, advancing the island’s defense strategy at a time of heightened tensions with China.
“This submarine is an important part of our navy developing asymmetric warfare and intimidating and deterring enemy ships around the main island of Taiwan,” President Tsai Ing-wen said. “Now that we are building the submarine on its future mandate, we will certainly be informing the world that we are persistently defending our sovereignty.
Tsai has made enhancing Taiwan’s indigenous defense capabilities a central pillar of its defense policy. He recently relaunched the military aviation industry with the production of new training machines and encouraged the development of more sophisticated systems using the island’s high-tech industries.
At the same time, it has received approval from the U.S. to purchase billions of dollars in weapons, including upgraded F-16 fighters, armed drones, missile systems, and Harpoon missiles capable of hitting both ships and land targets.
China sees Taiwan as a breakaway province that is part of its territory and has stepped up its threats to forcibly control the island as economic and political temptations are scarce. China has stepped up military exercises to Taiwan this year, flying fighters and reconnaissance aircraft almost daily to an island of 24 million people, located 160 kilometers (100 miles) off the southeast coast of China across the Taiwan Strait.
Taiwan has turned to the costly and time-consuming task of building its own submarine after Beijing successfully prevented it from buying such artisans from abroad through economic and diplomatic threats.
Only a few countries in the world are capable of producing submarines for modern warfare, and Taiwan’s move toward these moves took years. Taiwan’s vice presidents ’plans reportedly relied on foreign expertise, despite obstacles raised by China.
CSBC Corp., Taiwan’s largest shipbuilder and partly state-owned, was awarded a contract in 2017 to design and build substructures in cooperation with the weapon developer, the National Chong-San Science and Technology Institute.
It is planned to build eight indigenous submarines with an estimated cost in excess of $ 16 billion, with the first to be completed by 2024.
The project has already been criticized for its cost. The planning phase itself is estimated to cost about Taiwan $ 3 billion ($ 100 million).
The submarine has been in the design phase for four years, overcoming all sorts of difficulties that could not be revealed to the public, CSBC President Cheng Wen-lon said on Tuesday.
Tsai, whom China despises because he refuses to recognize Taiwan as part of Chinese territory, acknowledged that the program was a struggle, but said he would not deter his government.
“Going down this path, which the government has never taken in history, all sorts of challenges have arisen and all sorts of doubts have opened up to us, but challenges and doubts will not overcome us,” said Tsai, the workshop where the submarine parts are manufactured.
Legislators, the Secretary of Defense, members of the planning team, and Brent Christensen, the de facto U.S. ambassador to Taiwan, attended the ceremony at CSBC’s shipyard in the southern port city.
Although Washington has no formal relationship with the island’s democratically elected government, it remains its main ally, and U.S. law requires the government to defend Taiwan. Sales of arms to islands have increased in quantity and quality in recent years, especially under the Trump administration.
Taiwan has struggled with a potential Chinese enemy in overwhelming superiority in missiles, soldiers, ships and aircraft, Taiwan has struggled to reassure both its own people and the United States that it is able and willing to defend itself.
With the world’s largest permanent military, with about 2 million members, China has the largest navy, with about 350 ships, including two aircraft carriers and about 56 submarines. It also holds about 2,000 combat fighters and bombers, as well as 1,250 ground-launched ballistic missiles, which are key strategic and psychological weapons against Taiwan.
Taiwan’s armed forces make up a fraction of that number, most of its land forces are short-term conscripts, and its fleet includes only about 86 ships, roughly half of which are coastal patrol ships.
The Taiwan Navy currently has only two combat-ready submarines, versions of Zwaardvis-class submarines purchased from the Netherlands in the 1980s, which led to a significant diplomatic gap between Beijing and The Hague.