Taiwan boosts South China Sea deployments, gets submarine nod

Taiwan has a Coast Guard station in Itu Aba in the South China Sea [File: J.R Wu/Reuters]
Taiwan has a Coast Guard station in Itu Aba in the South China Sea

Taiwan’s newly-appointed defence minister has told parliament the island had strengthened deployments in the disputed South China Sea and that the United States has approved the export of sensitive technology to equip Taiwan’s new submarine fleet.

China, which claims democratic Taiwan as its own, has increased military activity near the island in recent months seeking to pressure Taipei to accept Beijing’s sovereignty. Taiwan has pledged to defend itself. Speaking in parliament on Wednesday, Defence Minister Chiu Kuo-cheng, who took up his post last month, said Taiwan had increased personnel and armaments stationed on Itu Aba, the main island Taiwan occupies in the South China Sea. Itu Aba, also known as Taiping Island, is the largest naturally occurring island in the Spratlys and is garrisoned by Taiwan’s Coast Guard.

“They are capable of starting a war,” Chiu told the parliament when asked by a legislator on whether China could attack Taiwan. “My goal is for us to be ready at all times.” Chiu said Taiwan was bolstering its position at Itu Aba due to China’s “expansionism” in the region, although it was not currently considering a return to a permanent army garrison. China has built man-made islands in the South China Sea and installed air bases on some of them. Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia and Brunei all have competing claims in the waterway.

Separately, Chiu said that the United States had approved export permits for all the sensitive equipment needed for Taiwan’s first domestically made submarine fleet. Construction on the eight attack submarines began last November with the first vessel expected to be completed by 2024. He added that Taiwan’s arms purchases from the United States, the island’s main source of weapons had not been affected by the new Biden administration taking office in Washington and were continuing.

Taiwan is modernising its armed forces, especially as it faces almost daily challenges from China in the airspace and waters near the island, including frequent Chinese air force missions into Taiwan’s air defence identification zone.

Chiu said the missions were part of China’s war of attrition against Taiwan, whose forces are dwarfed by Beijing’s and defence forces were already adjusting on how to deal with such incursions, although did not give details. “If we match them one for one, it costs a lot,” he said.

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