Taiwan has unveiled its first domestically-made submarine in a major step to boost its deterrence capabilities against a possible Chinese attack.
The island democracy of 23.5 million has focused on its indigenous submarine programme as a central part of bolstering and modernising its defence forces in the face of near daily intimidation tactics by the Chinese military and Beijing’s persistent threats that it may invade.
“History will forever remember this day,” said Tsai Ing-wen, the president of Taiwan, as she attended the launch ceremony in the southern port of Kaohsiung.
“Even if there are risks, and no matter how many challenges there are, Taiwan must take this step and allow the self-reliant national defence policy to grow and flourish on our land,” she said while standing in front of the imposing vessel draped in Taiwan’s distinctive blue, red and white flag.
The £1.27 billion diesel-electric powered submarine is named Narwhal in English and Hai Kun in Mandarin – both evoking a sea monster.
While the US is Taiwan’s main arms supplier, the submarine was built with the help of expertise and technology from multiple countries, in a breakthrough for the diplomatically isolated nation.
China’s Communist Party claims Taiwan as its own territory even though it has never ruled there, and has threatened to invade if Taipei, which has its own government, military and foreign policy, refuses to give up its sovereignty and accept Beijing’s demands.
The submarine will be delivered to the navy by the end of 2024 after undergoing several tests. The island currently has two Dutch-made submarines and aims to build a total of eight indigenous vessels.
Taiwan’s military chiefs hope the fleet will complicate China’s invasion calculation and protect their territory against a naval blockade. The strategically located submarines would also hinder the Chinese navy’s projection into the wider Pacific region.