SUAO, Taiwan (Reuters) – Taiwan may become a supplier of weapons to Western democracies, President Tsai Ing-wen said on Tuesday, praising the island’s ramped up weapons-design ability as she launched an advanced, missile-laden warship and commissioned a new minelayer.
Tsai has made boosting the defence of the Chinese-claimed island a priority in the face of a growing military challenge from Beijing, which has never renounced the use of force to bring democratic Taiwan under its control.
While Taiwan’s air force has benefited from big-ticket items like new and upgraded F-16s, the navy is Tsai’s next focus, with submarines in production and the Tuesday launch of the first of a fleet of highly manoeuvrable stealth corvettes.
The new Tuo Chiang-class corvettes, a prototype of which is already in operation, has been dubbed by Taiwan’s navy the “aircraft carrier killer” due to its complement of anti-ship missiles. It can also carry Sky Sword anti-aircraft missiles.
Speaking in the eastern port city of Suao for the launch of the Ta Chiang, the first mass production ship of the Tuo Chiang-class, Tsai said the vessel and the new minelayer would deter attacks and showcased Taiwan’s research and development ability.
“We have the determination and capability to complete the task of building our own ships, letting the world see our defence research and development energy,” Tsai said.
“In the future, we may also become a supply source of related equipment and components in Western democracies, driving the upgrading of the defence industry,” she said.
The United States is Taiwan’s main foreign source of weapons. Most countries shy away from arming the island, wary of angering Beijing and loosing valuable commercial contracts with the world’s second-largest economy.
Tsai, re-elected in a landslide in January on a vow to stand up to China, has championed the concept of “asymmetric warfare”, focusing on high-tech, mobile weapons designed to make any Chinese attack as difficult as possible.
She has bolstered the domestic arms industry to try to make Taiwan as self-sufficient as possible.
(Reporting by Ann Wang; Writing by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Robert Birsel)