Friday 18 January 2019

US 'playing Taiwan card' with submarine help: angry China

Taiwan leader Tsai Ing-wen.
Taiwan leader Tsai Ing-wen.

Neil Connor and Nicola Smith in Beijing and Taipei

A conflict between China and Taiwan is becoming "more probable" after Donald Trump agreed to help Taipei build its own submarines, Chinese media said.

The US gave the go-ahead for defence contractors to help Taiwan build a fleet after repeated appeals from Taiwan for help to bolster its defences against an increasingly assertive China.

The decision has prompted Chinese officials to warn the US against playing the 'Taiwan card' amid an escalating trade war between the two countries.

Taiwan first sought help from the US to build submarines in 1969, but Washington and European nations were reluctant to assist building a 12-boat fleet because of Chinese objections.

George W Bush's administration said it would help Taiwan acquire diesel electric ­submarines but, after little ­progress, Taipei launched a plan to manufacture its own submarines last year.

The office of Taiwan's President Tsai Ing-wen thanked the US for its recent decision, while the defence ministry described it as a "breakthrough".

However, media and officials in China - which considers Taiwan a renegade province which will be reunited with the mainland - expressed anger at US interference in Taiwan. The nationalist 'Global Times' newspaper said: "The mainland needs to continue to prepare for a possible military clash across the Strait. A military showdown with Taiwan is becoming more probable and may take place sooner rather than later."

According to Xiamen TV, Liu Jieyi, director of China's Taiwan Affairs Office, said: "Some Americans indeed intend to play the Taiwan card. This will not only harm the entire Chinese people, but harm rights and interests of Taiwan compatriots."

Taiwan's former defence minister Andrew Yang said the ruling was "a very important first step" in a process that could take at least 10 years. He said there was little surprise in Taipei over China's reaction.

"Beijing is always protesting US support for Taiwan in terms of providing defensive articles, particularly with regard to submarines. Submarines are more sensitive," he said.

Michael Tsai, another former defence minister, said: "China is expanding its very aggressive military activity around the Taiwan Strait and South China Sea. Taiwan needs to strengthen its self-defence capability, including submarines, to deter China."

The decision has not been universally welcomed in Taiwan, where there are concerns it could provoke Beijing amid its worsening trade spat with the US. "This is the right decision at the wrong time," said Dr Ching Chang, a former naval officer and now research fellow at the Society for Strategic Studies.

"Given the present awful situation in cross-Strait relations and US-Sino interactions regarding commercial disputes, it is very hard for us to see it as a blessing and not a curse."

Jason Hsu, a leading member of the Kuomintang opposition party, said the decision was a further sign of the US "flexing its muscles to China" amid growing tensions over trade.

"This is a double-edged sword," he said. "We do need the technology. However, at this particular time I think it would be like swallowing an unknown medicine without knowing its consequences or side-effects."

(© Daily Telegraph)

Today's news headlines, directly to your inbox every morning.

Editors Choice

Also in World News