Although Washington has agreed with the “One China” Principle, by which Beijing claims Taiwan as a rebellious province, it remains the Taipei government’s largest backer – something seen by Beijing as meddling in the country’s internal affairs.
Taiwan’s military inaugurated the first of a new class of landing platform dock (LPD) warships, which can launch helicopters as well as amphibious landing craft and marines.
At a ceremony in the southern city of Kaohsiung on Tuesday, Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen hailed the launch of the warship Yu Shan as a “milestone” for the country’s military, saying it “will strengthen the Navy’s ability to fulfil its mission and further solidify our defenses,” according to Defense News.
Yu Shan, named after Taiwan’s tallest mountain, will replace the older but larger warship Hsu Hai, an Anchorage-class LPD sold to Taipei by the United States. Work on the ship began in 2019 and it cost $162 million. Taipei reportedly plans to build four such vessels.
Cheng Wen-lon, chairman of the state-owned shipmaker CSBC Corporation that built the Yu Shan, said at the ceremony that the ship is 153 meters long, 23 meters wide, and 10,600 tons in displacement. It has a range of up to 11,265 kilometers and can transport up to 670 marines along with their landing craft, amphibious assault vehicles, and helicopters. It also sports two anti-ship missile launchers, giving it an offensive capability as well.
Still, Yu Shan will be considerably smaller than comparable US or Chinese warships: the US Navy’s San Antonio-class LPDs and the People’s Liberation Army Navy’s Type 071 LPDs are both roughly 25,000 tons each.
“In peacetime, the ship will be used to transport personnel and supplies to [Taiwan-controlled] offshore islands, and during natural disasters it can serve as a hospital ship for humanitarian assistance as well as disaster relief missions,” Cheng said, according to the South China Morning Post. “In wartime, it can serve as an amphibious vessel for combat operations.”
The outlet noted Yu Shan will be sent to defend Pratas and Taiping, two small islands claimed by Taiwan in the South China Sea. It is expected to become operational next year.
The Yu Shan’s launching comes amid a pronounced military buildup by Taiwan, an autonomous island that formally calls itself the Republic of China, refusing to recognize the socialist People’s Republic of China that controls the mainland. Likewise, the PRC in Beijing claims Taiwan as a rebellious Chinese province and says it must one day rejoin the rest of China.
Although the US formally recognizes Beijing’s claims, it has continued to funnel Taipei military equipment and to provide it with diplomatic support on the world stage. An unprecedented number and volume of weapons sales to Taiwan were approved by the US State Department last year, including drones, anti-ship missiles and cruise missiles, rocket artillery and communications equipment.
On Tuesday, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian warned the United States not to “play with fire” by supporting Taiwan, and not to “send the wrong signals to Taiwan independence forces so as not to subversively influence and damage Sino-US relations and peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait.”
The day prior, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken accused China of “increasingly aggressive actions” against Taiwan, referring in particular to dozens of Chinese aircraft appearing in Taiwan’s air defense identification zone (ADIZ). Although the zone has no legal bearing and extends significantly beyond waters controlled by Taipei, it demarcates an area in which Taiwanese air controllers request aircraft identify themselves and, if necessary, dispatches fighter escorts to warn them away from Taiwanese airspace. In Taiwan and in the Western media, these actions have been portrayed as violations of Taiwanese sovereignty, although they are not.
The US has also sent warships through the Taiwan Strait in a deliberate rejection of China’s claims over Taiwan, with the most recent transit occurring on April 7.