At 70 years old, Taiwan’s World War II-era Hai Pao submarine would not be out of place in a museum, but the antique vessel is still part of the navy — a sign of the nation’s ongoing struggle to strengthen its fleet.
The sub’s interior gleams with highly polished copper and is the pride of its crew, but the fact that the former US warship is still on active duty is testament to Taiwan’s decades-long battle to build up its submarine force, with potential suppliers wary of jeopardizing relations with China.
China has opposed any arms sales to Taiwan.
Yet a modern submarine fleet is critical for Taiwan’s defense, analysts say.
“Submarines would be a credible, survivable deterrent to an opponent’s use of force and thus make use of force less likely,” said Mark Stokes, executive director of the Project 2049 Institute, a US-based think tank on Asian security and public policy. “They would complicate [China’s] People’s Liberation Army planning in a variety of scenarios.”
Then-US president George W. Bush approved the sale of eight conventional submarines to Taiwan in April 2001, but they never materialized as Washington focused on its development of nuclear subs.
Germany and Spain, two of the world’s few submarine exporting countries, have also declined to supply Taiwan in what commentators interpret as fear of offending China.
Aside from two aging subs built in the 1940s, Taiwan’s navy operates two other Dutch-built submarines which were commissioned in the late 1980s.
The number is in stark contrast to the Chinese navy, which now owns more than 60 submarines, including 14 that are nuclear-powered.
An official evaluation this year of a potential domestic submarine-building project was “pretty positive,” Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Legislator Lin Yu-fang (林郁方) said, who sits on the legislature’s Foreign Affairs and National Defense Committee.
“The government might set aside a budget to officially launch the Indigenous Defense Submarine project,” he said, though the proposals have yet to be given the green light.
Taiwan is seeking to collaborate with the US on the project, Lin said.
The US remains the nation’s leading arms supplier, despite a lack of diplomatic ties.
Taiwan produced 130 Indigenous Defense Fighter (IDF) jets with technological aid from the US in the 1990s.
That project came after the US had refused to sell jet fighters to Taiwan, under pressure from Beijing.
Lin and a legislative group recently returned from Washington, where they discussed defense supply plans with government officials and representatives, focusing on the potential sub program.
“They used to be cold on the issue [of submarines], but this time was different. They were listening attentively when we raised the issue again. They have changed their attitude because we have become active on the deal,” Lin said.
Supporters of the project say Washington could reduce political pressure from Beijing if it supplies fighting systems and know-how, rather than the new submarines themselves.
For now, Taiwan’s two World War II-era Guppy submarines — including the Hai Pao. whose name means “Seal” — remain central to their fleet.
Taiwan bought the Hai Pao, then called Tusk, from the US in 1973 and the vintage sub recently returned from the nation’s biggest annual naval war game.
The fleet also includes the aging Hai Shih, or “Sea Lion” — another former US submarine built in the 1940s.
Captain of the Hai Pao Liu Si-wei said that his US peers were astonished to hear the antique subs were still in service.
Liu finished an advanced submarine officer training program in the US last year and several of his classmates are now captains of US nuclear-powered submarines.
“When they heard that the two submarines were still on active duty, several of my classmates said: ‘Fantastic.’ They told me, if permitted, they would like very much to have a look at them,” Liu said from on board the Hai Pao, which was docked at the Tso-ying naval base.
The navy is planning to spend more than NT$800 million (US $26.35 million) to overhaul one of the old subs next year.
Both will get new hulls as they are currently unable to dive more than 20m — less than a 10th of their design depth — due to warped pressure hulls and metal fatigue.
Taiwan’s ultimate ambitions to build its own subs are not pie in the sky, says Stokes — Taiwan has already built a 400,000-tonne oil tanker and seven navy frigates, among other vessels.
“The submarine program would mostly likely be based on a new design or a significant modification of an existing design,” Stokes said.
“Taiwan’s shipbuilding industry is one of the best in the world,” he said.
DIPLOMATIC MOVES: Beijing is reportedly pressing the state after reports of forming links with Taiwan, while the ministry is also planning to reopen its office in Guam soon A representative office is set to open in Somaliland at the end of this month, at the earliest, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) said yesterday amid reports that Beijing is sending a diplomatic delegation to the east African country. The ministry on July 1 announced that Taiwan and Somaliland would establish representative offices, following a report by the Somaliland Chronicle Web site. It said at the time that the two nations did not plan to establish formal ties. Somaliland President Muse Bihi Abdi has instructed close confidants to explore the possibility of “mutual recognition between Taiwan and Somaliland,” the Somaliland Chronicle reported
‘IMMORAL, INSINCERE’: Huang Kun-huei said that Ma was ‘distorting history’ in claiming that Lee Teng-hui laid the foundation for the so-called ‘1992 consensus’ Former Presidential Office secretary-general Huang Kun-huei (黃昆輝) on Saturday rejected former president Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) claim that former president Lee Teng-hui (李登輝) had been a proponent of Beijing’s “one China” principle. Lee, who served as president from 1988 to 2000, died in Taipei on Thursday last week. After visiting the Taipei Guest House on Saturday to pay his respects to Lee, Ma posted on Facebook that “28 years ago on this day” Lee hosted a session of the now-defunct National Unification Council, during which he passed a resolution on the “one China” principle. That resolution became the basis of the Chinese Nationalist Party’s
NEW ERA: Taiwan, which has controlled its virus outbreak, now faces the challenge of safely resuming economic exchanges with other nations, Chang Shan-chwen said People should not focus entirely on having zero new confirmed COVID-19 cases in Taiwan, but neglect overall control over the disease situation, Central Epidemic Command Center (CECC) specialist advisory panel convener Chang Shan-chwen (張上淳) said yesterday. Chang made the remark at a forum in Taipei discussing the steps Taiwan should take in the post-pandemic era, organized by the Chinese-language magazine Global Views Monthly. Chang, Centers for Disease Control (CDC) Director-General Chou Jih-haw (周志浩), and Stanford University’s Center for Policy, Outcomes and Prevention director C. Jason Wang (王智弘) each made a presentation, followed by a panel discussion with Chang, Wang and Buddhist Tzu
A Belgian man who tested positive for COVID-19 in Taiwan last week is likely to have contracted the disease in Taipei in late June, National Taiwan University (NTU) College of Public Health vice dean Tony Chen (陳秀熙) said yesterday. The Central Epidemic Command Center (CECC) on Saturday reported that the man, who is in his 20s, came to Taiwan for work on May 3 and tested positive on Wednesday last week as he was about to depart. The man in March reported loss of taste and smell, the center said, adding that he worked in Changhua County, but visited Taipei several times,