Both China and Taiwan are reportedly shopping for advanced submarines to boost their naval forces in the Taiwan Strait. These powerful weapons could make any conflict more deadly.
Reports in a U.S. newspaper and an academic journal say China is haggling with Russia over eight advanced "Kilo" class submarines Beijing wants to buy. China already operates four of the diesel-powered craft. The new ones, estimated to cost $1.6 billion, will be equipped with long-range anti-ship missiles.
The information comes as U.S. military officials are set to visit Taiwan next month to discuss the possible $6 billion sale of eight diesel submarines to the island.
Taiwan split from China politically amid civil war 50 years ago. Beijing said it wants the island back, peacefully if possible, but by force if necessary. China has not recovered Taiwan, in part because of U.S. arms sales to the island's government.
Military expert Ian Storey, from Deakin University in Australia, said a large fleet of Chinese submarines could upset the balance of power in the 160-kilometers of water that separate Taiwan from the mainland.
"If the Chinese side had these submarines, that would be a concern for the United States Navy. These Kilo submarines are very quiet vessels, difficult to detect and difficult to kill. These particular submarines would be used to attack aircraft carriers," Mr. Storey said.
Experts have said the subs could be used to blockade Taiwan, keeping out ships bringing in raw materials and carrying out exports.
China's Foreign Ministry did not confirm that China is seeking more submarines.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao did said Washington should stop interfering in China's quest to recover Taiwan by selling arms, including submarines, to the island.
Mr. Liu said Washington is breaking a promise to reduce and eventually stop arms sales to Taiwan. He said Taiwan is the most important issue in relations between China and the United States. But Washington is pledged to help defend Taiwan against any unprovoked attack.
On Taiwan, Andrew Yang at the Chinese Council of Advanced Policy Studies said relations between China and Taiwan have been reasonably good lately and he sees a conflict as relatively unlikely, anytime soon. "I don't think China will risk its own economic losses or create disaster for both sides to trigger warfare against Taiwan," Mr. Yang said.
Mr. Yang said the large and growing investment and trade between the island and the mainland give both sides a strong incentive to work things out peacefully.