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Home Editorials of Interest Taipei Times Subs too vital to be politicized

Subs too vital to be politicized

Admiral Huang Shu-kuang (黃曙光), who heads the Indigenous Defense Submarine program, would have been proud on Thursday last week as he attended the ceremony to launch the Hai Kun (海鯤), or “Narwhal.” The unveiling of the nation’s first domestically made submarine was a major milestone in what has been a long journey.

However, allegations by retired navy captain Kuo Hsi (郭璽) that Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Legislator Ma Wen-chun (馬文君) shared information about the Hai Kun with China have prompted concerns about national security.

Huang apparently told Kuo through friends that he would prefer it if the matter were dealt with discretely. Huang, himself, had indicated that a legislator, who he did not name, had made elements of the components procurement process “difficult.”

While the allegations must be investigated, Huang had his reasons to avoid rocking the boat.

Details of Ma’s alleged actions must await the result of investigations, but the KMT has a history of trying to impede purchases of foreign-made submarines and the development of indigenous models.

Moreover, the submarine program is not yet a fait accompli. The Hai Kun still needs to pass tests and the program has to deliver more vessels over the next few years. A second vessel is due in 2027 and the timetable for another six is as yet undetermined.

Huang knows how important it is for the program to survive potential transitions of power in presidential elections. Taiwan for a long time has needed to supplement its modest fleet of Chien Lung-class (Sword Dragon) submarines purchased from the Netherlands in the 1980s. Former US president George W. Bush approved the sale of eight diesel-electric submarines, but KMT legislators stalled the budget review 69 times. Former president Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) opposed purchasing submarines or initiating an indigenous program.

There are legitimate reasons for members of the opposition to question the government’s indigenous submarine program. Development of the craft from scratch is expensive and it is a matter of opinion whether it is money well spent or whether maintaining a modest fleet of submarines is consistent with an asymmetric warfare defense strategy, especially when even a modest fleet is years away and China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) already has a substantial fleet of its own.

However, this would not have been an issue had the KMT allowed the budget for the US submarines, or if Taiwan had not had to wait until 2016 when President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) entered office and ordered the initiation of the indigenous program.

On balance, the operational capability of Taiwan’s defense forces offered by submarines, such as to keep supply lines open in the event of an attempted blockade by the PLA, justifies the program.

The KMT is weak in opposition, but it could still revive its fortunes and even return to power. It has a history of opposition to improving the nation’s submarine fleet, and whether Ma Wen-chun was the troublesome legislator referred to by Huang, it seems that the party’s attitude has not changed. If it wins a presidential election, it could pull the plug on the program, which is a concern for national security.

The KMT should make known its stance on continuing the program.

Huang wanted to keep his concerns low-key, but if there is evidence to back up the allegations, they must be investigated. The program is too important to be made into a political football.

Source: Taipei Times - Editorials 2023/10/05

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