Washington is all but certain to support Taiwan in building indigenous submarines, and U.S. defense contractors will be allowed to participate in building them for Taiwan, said Randall Schriver, former assistant secretary of state for East Asian affairs under President George W. Bush. Schriver made the remarks at a panel in Washington, D.C. on April 17.
Taiwan Minister of National Defense Kao Hua-chu, left, with Navy Command Headquarters
Huang Shu-kuang reported on March 30 about Taiwan’s submarine-building capabilities.
If Schriver is correct, it would constitute a new approach by the U.S. to fulfill the Taiwan Relations Act, which aims to keep a defense force in Taiwan capable of fending off attacks from China.
The strongest obstacle in the U.S.-China relationship during the past 40 years has been America’s arms sales to Taiwan. China reacts viscerally every time Washington sells defensive arms to Taiwan.
The PLA Navy has about 70 submarines, including four SSBNs, six SSNs and scores of diesel-electric conventional attack subs. In contrast, Taiwan has only two WWII-vintage Hai Shih (Tench) class subs and two obsolete Dutch-made conventional subs.
The most prohibited item in any arms deal to Taiwan has been submarines. No U.S. administration had been able to include submarines in any arms sale package to Taiwan until 2001, when the newly elected President Bush approved the sale of eight conventional subs to Taiwan to redress the extreme imbalance of submarine forces between China and Taiwan.
But Bush’s plan was never implemented because the U.S. stopped building conventional subs decades earlier, and the proposal for Germany and Spain to build them for Taiwan was rejected by Berlin and Madrid due to Beijing’s strenuous objections.
This new approach would allow Taiwan to build its own subs, with substantial U.S. technological help. The plan will have a better chance of success if it goes through a different regulatory path, Schriver said. More obstacles will be encountered through the traditional "foreign military sale" regulatory channel, he said, but it will work if the plan goes through the "direct commercial sale" application process.
In any case, he added, the pre-condition is that Taiwan has to ask for the subs first.