Here's How Taiwan Could Still Build Its Own Submarines

David Axe

Key point: Taipei needs to keep up its naval strength if it is to deter a Chinese invasion.

Taiwan wants new submarines to replace its two 1980s-vintage front-line boats. But China has leaned on every major submarine-exporting country to not conduct business with Taipei.

So Taiwan is going it alone, with some technical assistance from companies in the United States and Japan.

Everyone knows the Indigenous Defense Submarine program is risky. But one Taiwanese expert believes it could succeed.

“It is expected that the first submarine will be launched in 2024,” Yawen Tsao, a research assistant at Taiwan’s Democratic Progressive Party mission in the United States, wrote at The Diplomat.

Not everyone in Taiwan is so sanguine on the prospects of the island country building all, or any, of the eight diesel-electric submarines the navy says it needs, Yawen conceded. The opposition Kuomintang of China political party, or KMT, is skeptical that the government under DPP president Tsai Ing-wen can see the subs through development, Yawen explained.

During a campaign event on Nov. 9, [2019] in Keelung — a northern port city that also happens to host one of Taiwan’s major naval bases — KMT presidential candidate and Kaohsiung mayor Han Kuo-yu claimed that he has doubts about this policy. “Do we have the capability of producing engines and complex interior systems?” Han queried.

He then went on to advise the DPP government to “not bite off more than you can chew.” Instead, Han declared that if he is elected, he would develop Taiwan’s artificial-intelligence technologies and adopt Lee Kuan Yew’s “poisonous shrimp” defense strategy — one designed to signal any larger country that trying to swallow the island state would be painful.

Han’s comments were met with pushback from multiple sectors of Taiwan’s political and policymaking world. Premier Su Tseng-chang expressed great dissatisfaction in response to the mayor’s skepticism, calling Han’s ideas out of touch with reality.

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