Taiwan breaks ground on shipyard for self-built submarines, in move to boost defence autonomy

Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen waving during the ground-breaking ceremony for a submarine manufacturing plant in Kaohsiung, Taiwan, on May 9, 2019. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

TAIPEI (DPA) - Taiwan's President Tsai Ing-wen on Thursday (May 9) hosted a ground-breaking ceremony for the island's first shipyard for self-built submarines, stressing that she is determined to strengthen the island's defence autonomy.

President Tsai announced the launch of a programme in 2017 for the development of submarines made in Taiwan, but the move has faced criticism from rival China as well as opposition parties, which say it is too expensive.

"We've faced harsh criticism. Today, however, we've proved that Taiwan can actually make it," Ms Tsai said at the ceremony, held at the shipyard site in southern Kaohsiung.

The construction of the shipyard is due to be completed by late 2020.

Taiwan plans to produce eight diesel submarines, and to be operating its first self-built submarine by 2024.

The programme is being jointly conducted by the Navy, the National Chung-Shan Institute of Science and Technology, and shipbuilding company CSBC Corporation Taiwan.

According to Ms Tsai, Taiwan currently operates four submarines: two 70-year-old models from the United States and two 30-year-old models from the Netherlands. Pressure from China has prevented Taiwan from buying more from abroad.

Taiwan faces a growing military threat from China. Ms Tsai has made reviving Taiwan's domestic arms industry a priority for her administration.

On Monday, Ms Tsai received a defence industry delegation from the US-Taiwan Business Council, expressing her hope that the council will help connect the island's defence manufacturers with the global market.

Taiwan has had its own government since 1949, when Chinese Nationalists fled there after losing a civil war to the Communists.

Beijing considers the democratic island part of its territory.

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