China-Taiwan tensions at a point 'not seen in years' says expert

The combat submarines are a welcome arrival among its aging fleet and will enter service from late-2024. Taiwan has four submarines which were purchased from the Netherlands in the 1980s and two originating from the US which date back to the 1940s, making them the world’s oldest.

China has the largest navy in the world, with over 300 warships and submarines. Its ambitious expansion plans could see its fleet reach more than 550 by 2030.

Owen Cote, an in submarines at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, told Forbes the Taiwanese could hold the advantage over the Chinese in the Taiwan Strait.

Mr Cote said: “The shallow, noisy waters of the Taiwan Strait greatly favour submarines over air and surface [anti-submarine warfare] forces.”

Democratically-run Taiwan is claimed by China and Beijing refuses to rule out the use of force to take back the island. China and Taiwan were divided in the 1940s during a civil war.

The US has pledged its support to Taiwan in various forms, including a multibillion pound arms deal and participation in the submarine programme.

In October, the US approved a $1.8bn (£1.3bn) weapons sale to Taiwan, including rocket launchers, sensors and artillery.

Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen said at a ceremony to mark the plans: “The construction demonstrates Taiwan’s strong will to the world to protect its sovereignty.”

Xavier Chang, Taiwan’s Presidential Office spokesman, said the vessels represent “a new milestone in the national submarine manufacturing plan”.

On November 24, President Tsai tweeted: “Proud to launch our #MadeInTaiwan submarine program.

“Thanks to everyone who helped us overcome all obstacles, erase all doubts and begin domestic production.

“We’re more determined than ever to continue developing our self-defense industries & safeguard our sovereignty and democracy.”

The US Department of Defence said in a 2020 report of China’s capabilities: “The People’s Republic of China has the largest navy in the world, with an overall battle force of approximately 350 ships and submarines including over 130 major surface combatants.

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“In comparison, the US Navy’s battle force is approximately 293 ships as of early 2020.”

US officials have visited Taiwan in recent months, angering China further.

Navy Rear Admiral Michael Studeman, the top military intelligence official at US Indo-Pacific command, is said to have visited last month.

Keith Krach, senior US official figure for economic growth, energy and the environment, visited Taiwan in September, as did US health secretary Alex Azar in August.

Robert O’Brien, the US national security adviser, said last month: “I can’t imagine anything that will cause a greater backlash against China from the entire world if they attempted to use military force to coerce Taiwan.”

Joe Biden’s military adviser General Stanley McChrystal has warned that time is running out for the US to counter Chinese efforts to attack.

He told Axios: “My concern would be, we wake up one morning and China has just done a fait accompli. They have just showered Taiwan with rockets.”

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