The new Taiwanese submarine will be launched in September 2023

Since the normalization of relations between the West and Beijing from 1995, the island of Taiwan, autonomous since 1949, and claimed by the People's Republic of China since that date, has encountered increasing difficulties in modernizing its defense tool. Indeed, the Chinese authorities perfectly knew how to handle a very attractive carrot, the Chinese economic potential for Western companies, and a powerful stick, the immediate and severe deterioration of diplomatic and economic relations, if one of its Western partners were to intervene in the modernization of the Taiwanese armies. This strategy proved to be extraordinarily effective, all of Taiwan's traditional defense partners, including France, which sold frigates and Mirage 2000s to the island in the early 90s, turned their backs on Taipei, point that in the mid-2000s, no European country agreed to collaborate with the new Taiwanese democracy on defense issues, while they multiplied defense contracts with Beijing, barely 15 years after the massacre of the place Tien an men.

Even the United States, although a partner traditionally involved in the defense of the island, then refused to show too much support for Taipei, for fear of suffering the opprobrium of Beijing. Throughout this period, the autonomous island actively developed two critical industries for its defense against Chinese claims, an increasingly efficient defense industry to meet many of the needs of its armies, and a very powerful design industry and above all of semiconductor production, to the point of controlling between 40 and 90% of the world market now depending on the sector. The situation changed in the early 2010s, when Beijing, having become more confident in its army and in its defense industry having also largely benefited from European and American technology transfers (and from very active industrial and scientific espionage), began to deploy new military bases in the South China Sea, a maritime zone long claimed by the Chinese authorities according to the “9 lines” rule.

Taiwan to launch next year upgrade program of its Chien Lung class submarines 925 001 Air Independent Propulsion AIP | Defense Analysis | amphibious assault

At the same time, Beijing's demands on Taiwan became increasingly pressing, prompting the island's authorities to increase their own defense effort, and to undertake to modernize its armed forces. The very clear hardening of trade and diplomatic relations between Washington and Beijing under the Trump administration allowed Taipei to order some of the critical equipment it lacked, such as Abrams heavy tanks, F-16V planes, or anti- Harpoon ships. In addition, the US Congress is softening its position regarding the export of certain critical technologies, such as in the field of radars and sonars on board Taiwanese corvettes and frigates. But while the Chinese fleet continues to grow and modernize, to the point of tangling the American naval power in certain areas, the defense of the island in the event of an amphibious action led by the People's Army of Liberation, relies more and more on the underwater capabilities of the island.

Solving this problem was far from simple for Taipei. Indeed, if the United States could support the Taiwanese naval industry in certain areas such as sonars or on-board weapons, American shipyards have not designed conventionally powered submarines for more than 60 years, and most of the skills in this area are now found in Europe, the very people who are the most reluctant to challenge Beijing to support Taiwan. Intense negotiations then took place in great secrecy in the fall of 2019 in Europe. between European industrial and state actors on the one hand, and Taiwanese engineers and negotiators supported by the United States on the other, so as to allow Taiwan to rely on limited but crucial technology transfers for the design of its attack submarine program, without the Europeans being directly implicated by Beijing. The fact is, neither the nature nor even the conclusion of these negotiations have ever been made public.

Y8 ASW China Air Independent Propulsion AIP | Defense Analysis | amphibious assault
The Chinese Navy's maritime patrol fleet, here a Y-8Q, continues to grow in volume and employment intensity. Most of the Chinese Air Force's daily incursions into the Taiwanese Air Identification Zone are accompanied by a maritime patrol Y-8Q or XJ-200.

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