Sun, Nov 04, 2018 - Page 6 News List

[ LETTERS ]

Indigenous sub program

Taiwan’s indigenous submarine program has recently come under the spotlight, not the least because navy officials managing the program made a rare appearance at the Legislative Yuan.

During the meeting, the officials advised that details of the project should be strictly kept under wraps, since releasing information into the public domain could risk scuppering the entire project.

Then, on Oct. 19, Navy Command Headquarters issued a news release intended to provide clarity, dispel concerns and drum up public support for the project.

In addition to Chinese threats of a naval blockade of the Taiwan Strait and an amphibious assault, other surrounding waters, including the East China Sea, Pacific Ocean, Bashi Channel and South China Sea, are home to vital trade shipping routes connecting Taiwan to the outside world, in addition to traditional fishing waters for Taiwanese fishermen.

One is reminded of the incident on May 9, 2013, when Taiwanese fishing boat Kuang Ta Hsing No. 28 was fired on by the Philippine Coast Guard and Taiwanese fisherman Hung Shih-cheng (洪石成) was killed.

The Philippine government’s subsequent arrogance and feet-dragging meant that the public rallied behind the government and the military, and for the first time since its formation, the Republic of China (ROC) Navy dispatched warships to carry out joint military exercises in neighboring waters.

In September of the previous year, the Suao Fishermen’s Association organized a small flotilla of boats to sail in waters close to the disputed Diaoyutai Islands (釣魚台), known as the Senkaku Islands in Japan, to “protect fishing rights and fishermen’s livelihoods.” The navy put warships on standby to provide assistance if needed.

In 2016, warships implemented fishing protection operations in waters surrounding the disputed Parece Vela (沖之鳥), known as the Okinotori Islands in Japan, after a Taiwanese fishing boat was seized by the Japanese Coast Guard.

These are all good examples of the navy projecting its force to protect the national interest and the livelihoods of Taiwanese fishermen.

In the past few years, disputes over the South China Sea islands have increased dramatically, with competing claims for part or full sovereignty from China, Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia and other neighboring nations.

All claimant nations are busily building up naval strength to add weight to their claims.

In addition to China, Vietnam also claims sovereignty over Itu Aba Island (Taiping Island, 太平島) and in has been steadily procuring military equipment. Aside from upgrading the quality and quantity of surface ships, Vietnam has also purchased six Kilo-class diesel-electric attack submarines from Russia.

Returning to Taiwan, the navy’s existing submarine force consists of two World War II-era Tench-class submarines, used for training, and two 1980s vintage Hai Lung-class submarines, manufactured by the Netherlands. The former have been in service for more than 40 years, and the latter for more than 30 years.

According to Global Firepower’s 2017 and 2018 World Military Strength Rankings, Vietnam’s overall ranking has exceeded Taiwan’s for two successive years (last year, Vietnam ranked 16th and the ROC 18th and this year Vietnam moved down to 20th while the ROC descended to 24th).

This change in the balance of power naturally poses a significant threat to the security of Taiping Island and its surrounding waters.

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