(Bloomberg) -- Taiwan unveiled a prototype of its first submarine assembled at home as it prepares to stave off a potential invasion by China, a feat only made possible with the secretive help of other countries.
The Taiwanese Defense Ministry on Thursday staged the first sea trial of the diesel-electric vessel at its shipbuilder CSBC Corp.’s Kaohsiung dockyard. The submarine – named “Hai Kun” – is one of eight new vessels being developed under a multibillion-dollar program to bolster Taiwan’s naval defenses in the event of war with China.
“The national submarine program is an important tool in protecting Taiwan’s maritime borders,” President Tsai Ing-wen said in a speech at Thursday’s unveiling ceremony. “In supporting the national defense industry, Taiwan will be more capable of defending itself and more competitive globally when it comes to industrial development.”
China has sharply increased the number of military vessels it sends into the waters around Taiwan over the past year. Taiwan’s plan to update its aging fleet highlights rising concerns over China’s threat, including the potential for its People’s Liberation Army warships to encircle the island.
Beijing views Taiwan as part of its territory and has pledged to bring the island under its control someday, by force if necessary. Taiwan’s government has rejected China’s claim, insisting the island is a de facto sovereign nation.
The submarine program was “squandering” the Taiwanese people’s money and would only “undermine peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Mao Ning said at a briefing later Thursday.
The submarine program draws on a coalition of expertise and parts around the world. In addition to sourcing technology from countries including the US and the UK, Taiwan also hired engineers, technicians and former naval officers from Australia, South Korea, India, Spain and Canada, according to a Reuters report — a milestone for diplomatically isolated Taiwan.
China vehemently opposes countries maintaining ties with Taiwan, including arms sales, prompting governments to keep much of their business with Taipei under the table.
Taiwan’s navy currently has only four submarines: two World War II-era vessels from the US used for training and two bought from the Netherlands in the 1980s. Taipei launched its program to build its own submarines after Tsai came into power in 2016 following years of failed attempts to update its fleet.
“In the process of building this submarine, the most difficult task was to secure all kinds of equipment and spare parts because we do not have this industry,” said Cheng Wen-lon, chairman of CSBC. “From the very beginning of this undertaking, we encountered this problem so we paid a lot of attention to obtaining as much equipment and as many spare parts in Taiwan as possible.”
Almost 1,000 people and 100 Taiwanese manufacturers were involved in manufacturing and procuring parts for the vessel, 40% of which was produced locally, according to Cheng.
After sea trials, the “Hai Kun” is scheduled to be delivered to the Navy before the end of next year.
--With assistance from Philip Glamann and Lucille Liu.
(Updated with additional comments in the third, sixth, ninth and 10th paragraphs.)
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