If Taiwan decides to build its own diesel-electric submarines, the US will “very likely” provide some assistance, a former US official said.
Randall Schriver, a former US Department of State and Pentagon official, said there were “multiple pathways forward” for Taiwan to acquire submarines.
He was speaking at the launch of a new report on Chinese reactions to US arms sales to Taiwan.
US Taiwan Business Council president Rupert Hammond-Chambers said he “absolutely agreed” on the likelihood of US help.
However, Hammond-Chambers said the administration of US President Barack Obama “had no real intention” to move forward this year with the sale of F-16C/D aircraft or submarines to Taiwan.
He said that during a visit to Washington last week, Taiwan Affairs Office Director Wang Yi (王毅) did not make arms sales to Taiwan “a particularly high priority.”
“I actually think that is news. Certainly it is the first time that I have heard of a senior Chinese official being somewhat disinterested in the subject of arms sales,” Hammond-Chambers said.
It suggested that Wang did not “rate” the prospects of a new arms sales package, he said.
“That’s cause for concern,” he said.
A US congressional staffer asked Hammond-Chambers if he believed Taiwan really still wanted to buy submarines.
“I absolutely believe that Taiwan wants the submarines,” he said.
“They are having a significant internal debate at the moment on how to move forward,” he said.
Schriver, now president of the Project 2049 Institute, said the perception that Taiwan had “a lack of interest” in buying submarines stemmed from frustration with “lost time” and “useless efforts” to come up with programs.
One of the multiple pathways forward was a Taiwan indigenous program based on unique designs or designs procured elsewhere with the help and assistance of the US defense industry, he said.
“Something along those lines is very doable and as soon as Taiwan makes the decision that’s the path they are going to follow, we will have a real program,” he said.
Asked if Washington would allow US defense companies to assist Taiwan with submarines and provide the needed weapons systems, Schriver said that support for a new program would be “very likely.”
“You are not going to get the US making a commitment before there is a program,” he said.
Schriver said it would not be possible for the US to say that torpedoes and combat weapons suits would be available “until there is a program.”
“When there is a program, I have confidence the US will support it,” he said.
Schriver said the US would not build diesel electric submarines for Taiwan. However, he believed that if Taiwan built its own subs, the US government would give the US defense industry permission to support that program.
When pressed on the issue and asked about reports that the Obama administration would not agree to assist Taiwan to equip subs, Schriver said that was because Taiwan did not have a submarine program at this time.
“These submarines are not going to be built here,” Hammond-Chambers added. “But if Taiwan does make a decision to move forward with an indigenous program there is no reason to believe that the US would not look at licenses in respect to support of that program.”
However, a source closely associated with efforts by Taiwan to acquire submarines told the Taipei Times in February that the US Navy had instructed top US arms companies to not involve themselves in a Taiwanese submarine program.
Questioned on Taiwan’s ability to build submarines, Schriver said: “If North Korea can build submarines, if Columbian drug runners can build submarines, if universities can build research submarines, Taiwan can build submarines.”
Additional reporting by staff writer
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