US and Taiwan hold first defence industry forum as tensions with mainland China intensify

Inaugural event allows businesses to discuss areas for cooperation as self-ruled island seeks to enhance defence capabilities

PUBLISHED : Friday, 11 May, 2018, 3:45pm
UPDATED : Friday, 11 May, 2018, 3:48pm

The first Taiwan-US Defence Business Forum was held in Taiwan on Thursday amid tensions between China and Taiwan and between the two contending superpowers.

The forum, co-hosted by the US-Taiwan Business Council and the Taiwan Defence Industry Development Association, brought together companies from Taiwan and the United States to discuss opportunities for bilateral cooperation in the defence industry, including shipbuilding, cybersecurity and aerospace industries.

The event, which will be held in Taiwan in the first half of every year, attracted this year international weapons systems suppliers such as Lockheed Martin, Raytheon, Cubic and BAE Systems.

In his opening remarks, Rupert Hammond-Chambers, president of the US-Taiwan Business Council, said Taiwan already has strong experience in the global technology supply chain, so “there is no reason that Taiwan should not enjoy considerable success” in the global defence supply chain.

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He said drawing Taiwan into the global defence supply chain was important “not only just for Taiwan’s right to provide its own security, but also to create new opportunities for Taiwan companies in the global defence market.”

Taiwan’s Deputy Minister of Economic Affairs Shen Jong-chin told the meeting that the government policy of building military equipment such as jet trainers and submarines at home helped create business opportunities for the local aviation and shipbuilding industries working with their US counterparts.

Robert Laing, director of international business development at Lockheed Martin, said his company had a great interest in Taiwan’s submarine programme.

“We’re hopeful that we’ll have components of the programme to allow some of our world-class systems to be installed,” he said.

The United States agreed in 2001 to sell eight submarines to Taiwan, but it no longer builds non-nuclear-powered vessels, and countries capable of building conventional submarines have hesitated to provide them to Taiwan, fearing political consequences from mainland China.

While the navy has never publicly spoken about what size submarines it wants, local media has reported that it will be in the 1,500 to 2,000-tonne class. The navy did, however, say that it hopes to see the completion of a prototype by 2024 and commission the vessel by 2025.

Thursday’s event came at a time when China is flexing its military muscles in the region, a move Beijing said was partly in response to Washington’s recent decision to play the “Taiwan card.”

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Washington, which is already at loggerheads with Beijing over trade, has irked Beijing with its increasing support for Taiwan, which Beijing considers a renegade province awaiting unification, by force if necessary.

Beijing has been annoyed with US congressional approval of the 2017 National Defence Authorisation Act allowing high-level Pentagon officials to visit Taiwan and President Donald Trump’s endorsement of the Taiwan Travel Act, which promotes exchanges between high-ranking government officials.

The US State Department’s recent approval of marketing licences to provide Taiwan with submarine technology further irritated Beijing.

Thursday’s forum was part of a series of conferences addressing the future of US defence cooperation with Taiwan, the defence procurement process and Taiwan’s defence and national security needs.

Taiwan and the United States also have the Defence Industry Conference, which began in 2002, and is held in the United States in the latter part of every year and attended by high-ranking military officials.