Taiwan's President Tsai Ing-wen launched the self-governing island's first domestically made submarine Thursday for testing after seven years of design and construction and increasingly aggressive moves by China.
The diesel-electric vessel must pass harbor and oceanfaring tests before the military can take full possession in 2024.
Tsai, who initiated the plan to build a submarine when she took office in 2016, said, "History will remember this day forever. In the past, a domestically produced submarine was considered a mission impossible [for Taiwan]. But today, a submarine designed and built by our countrymen is in front of you.
"We did it. Building a submarine is not just a goal but a concrete realization of our commitment to defending our country. Submarines are important equipment for the Taiwan navy in developing asymmetric warfare strategies."
Taiwan embarked on building its own submarines after Beijing used its economic and diplomatic heft to prevent it from purchasing any from allies. China considers the island its own territory, and at their closest point, the Taiwanese island of Kinmen, the two entities are 2 kilometers apart.
Beijing continues to step up aggressive military activities near Taiwan with fighter jets and navy vessels patrolling and conducting drills.
China's Defense Ministry said Thursday that with the submarine's construction, Taiwan was "heading down the path of its own destruction."
"No matter how many weapons the Democratic Progressive Party buys, it will not obstruct the greater trend of reunification with the motherland," said Colonel Wu Qian, a spokesperson in China's Ministry of National Defense, according to The Associated Press.
Later Thursday, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Mao Ning said at a briefing that Taiwan's submarine program was "squandering" the Taiwanese people's money and would only "undermine peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait."
Cheng Wen-lon, CEO of the shipbuilding CSBC Corporation, said, "The new vessel is fully designed by us, and its performance will be better than that of its peers currently on active duty.
"After today's launching ceremony, we will undergo the so-called HAT [harbor acceptance test] and SAT [sea acceptance test] before its commission to the Taiwanese military for further combat tests and strength-building preparation."
What is it called?
During the Thursday ceremony, the new submarine received its official name, "Hai Kun," after a mythological fish of gigantic proportions that had the ability to morph into an equally enormous bird. The submarine's English name is "Narwhal," after a single-tusked whale that National Geographic includes on its list of the world's weirdest creatures.
Experts told VOA Mandarin that Taiwan has seven more submarines in the production pipeline and will renovate two Stegosaurus-class submarines currently in service. The 10 submarines will form a fleet that will play a role in collaboration with the U.S. and Japan in securing Taiwan and the region amid a growing threat from Beijing.
The domestically manufactured subs will be additions to a fleet of two Dutch-built submarines bought in the 1980s and two ex-U.S. Navy Guppy-class boats built at the end of World War II, according to the BreakingDefense website.
Lin Ying-yu, assistant professor at Tamkang University's Graduate Institute of International Affairs and Strategic Studies, said at the ceremony, "Submarines, by nature, are stealth weapons.
"During asymmetrical warfare, [Taiwan] will deploy submarines to defend itself against the attack by the People's Liberation Army or any other countries that are hostile to us. They will need to spend more time on submarine detection and anti-submarine operations. The time we can buy will be relatively in our favor."
Admiral Huang Shu-kuang, an adviser to Taiwan's National Security Council and a leader of the submarine project, said that the new submarine uses a combat system developed by Lockheed Martin, a U.S. aerospace and defense company, and is equipped with the MK-48 Mod 6 AT heavy-duty torpedoes currently in service in the U.S. Navy.
Its top speed is 55 knots, about 101 kilometers per hour. That is 60% faster than the German-made SUT torpedo assigned to the Stegosaurus-class submarines currently in service in Taiwan.
Tony Hu, a former U.S. Department of Defense official who now lives in Taipei, told VOA Mandarin, "The MK-48 is a heavy torpedo. Its warhead is very large and can cause a lot of damage. Its ability to find the target and then track the target to the end is very powerful. It is a very important system even in the United States."
Huang said if war breaks out in the Taiwan Strait, China's PLA navy may encircle Taiwan. Hence, having a submarine fleet to guard the island’s north choke point in the Miyako Strait and the south choke point in the Bashi Channel will ensure the safety of nearby sea routes and the first island chain.
Taiwan is located at the hub of the first chain of major Pacific archipelagos streaming out from the East Asian continental mainland coast.
Huang said the PLA navy could cut off Northeast Asia from Southeast Asia after taking control of Taiwan, a move that would threaten the security of global shipping and neighboring countries. By deploying its submarines, he said, Taiwan will defend itself against China's projection of military power but also protect neighboring countries.
Adrianna Zhang contributed to this report.