KAOHSIUNG, Taiwan (AP) — Taiwan’s president launched the island’s first domestically made submarine for testing Thursday at a port in Kaohsiung.
The submarine, if successful in its tests, will be a major breakthrough for Taiwan in shipbuilding and design.
“In the past, a domestic-made submarine was considered impossible, but today a submarine designed and built by our countrymen is in front of you,” President Tsai Ing-wen said at the launch ceremony.
“Building a submarine is the concrete realization of our resolution to protect our country. Submarines are an important piece of equipment for the Taiwan navy to develop asymmetric combat power in terms of strategy and tactics,” she said.
The U.S. has been pushing Taiwan to develop asymmetric warfare strategies by investing in smaller and lighter weapons such as the reduced-size submarine.
The process was “torturous,” said Cheng Wen-lon, head of Taiwan’s CSBC Corp., which led the construction of the submarine.
“Although we have worked quietly during the past several years, it doesn’t mean the process was very smooth,” he said at the ceremony held in CSBC’s shipyard.
After seven years of design and construction, the prototype will begin tests in the harbor before heading to the ocean.
The submarine is named Hai Kun after a fish in Chinese mythology called kun with legendary proportions.
It will only be handed over to the military after passing both its harbor and ocean-faring tests. Taiwan plans to build another submarine if successful, with both to be deployed by 2027, according to the semi-official Central News Agency.
Taiwan began the expensive and time-consuming task of building its own submarines after Beijing prevented it from purchasing such craft from abroad through the use of economic and diplomatic threats.
In recent years, China has stepped up its military exercises aimed at the island, sending fighter jets and navy vessels to patrol and hold drills in the waters and skies near Taiwan.
China’s Defense Ministry said on Thursday that the submarine’s construction was Taiwan “heading down the path of its own destruction.”
“No matter how many weapons the Democratic Progressive Party buys, it will not obstruct the greater trend of reunification with the motherland,” said Col. Wu Qian, a spokesperson in China’s Ministry of National Defense.
He described the Chinese military’s recent live-fire exercises near Taiwan as routine drills that are part of its annual plan. They tested troop effectiveness and joint-operation capabilities with different weapons and among different branches, Wu said at a monthly news conference.
In attendance at the ceremony were the heads of the U.S. de facto embassy, Sandra Oudkirk, and the Japanese and South Korean trade delegations based in Taiwan.
Wu reported from Taipei, Taiwan.