One word: Submarines.
Taiwan’s government has for decades tried to procure new submarines without success. Although a strong and vibrant diesel electric submarine industry exists, no country is willing to sell the island nation modern boats and anger China. As China’s economic clout has grown, it has used the threat of economic sanction to prevent countries from selling arms to what it considers a “breakaway province.” In 2001 the George W. Bush administration promised to sell the country submarines. The plan ultimately came to nothing as American shipyards built only nuclear-powered submarines, financially unsustainable for Taiwan and a politically a bridge too far even for Washington.
The country with perhaps the most dire need for a modern submarine force in the industrialized world actually has the oldest. Fully half of Taiwan’s submarine force consists of World War II–era boats, while the other half is “just” forty years old. The result is a force that is unable to respond to China’s submarine fleet and cannot adequately protect the country from invasion.
The end of the Chinese Civil War in 1949 resulted in a split between the People’s Republic of China on the mainland and the Republic of China on the island of Taiwan. The Taiwan Strait, a narrow section of the Pacific separating the two Chinas, is anywhere from 80 to 200 miles wide. Although relatively narrow, the presence of the strait—or “The Black Ditch” as mariners used to call it—has prevented one side from conquering the other and settling the China problem by force.
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