KAOHSIUNG, Taiwan (Reuters) – Taiwan commissioned the first of a new fleet of coastguard ships on Friday, an advanced catamaran that can be armed with missiles during war, as the island bolsters its defences in the face of what it sees as a growing threat from Beijing.
President Tsai Ing-wen has made military modernisation a priority for the Chinese-claimed island. Beijing has never renounced the use of force to bring Taiwan under its control.
Attending the commissioning of the domestically made, T$1.05 billion ($37.30 million) Anping in the southern city of Kaohsiung, Tsai praised its “specific” ability of being able to be used in time of conflict.
“If necessary, it can be immediately be transformed into an important force for defence,” she said at the shipyard, where she also named the second ship to follow the Anping, the Chengkung.
“This also means that while the coastguard strengthens law enforcement, national defence forces will be strengthened too.”
The Anping is a similar vessel to the Tuo Chiang-class of corvettes, on which it is based, and has space for launchers for Hsiung Feng anti-ship and sea-to-land missiles but has added equipment for rescue operations.
The Tuo Chiang vessels are state-of-the-art, highly manoeuvrable stealth vessels, meant to take out larger warships while operating close to Taiwan’s shores.
The first is already in service, and has been referred to by Taiwan’s navy as the “aircraft carrier killer” due to its missile complement. China has two carriers in operation and is building at least one more.
With Taiwan’s armed forces dwarfed by China’s, Tsai has championed the concept of “asymmetric warfare”, including adding weapons that are mobile and harder to attack, to make any Chinese offensive costly and difficult.
While the United States remains Taiwan’s most important arms supplier, Tsai has also boosted the island’s indigenous defence industry, most notably the planned building of eight submarines.
Taiwan’s coastguard is often involved in confrontations with Chinese fishing and sand-dredging ships which Taiwan says operate illegally in its waters.
(Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Robert Birsel)