UK to Increase Submarine Technology Exports to Taiwan

The UK has approved a significant increase to Taiwan for exports of submarine parts and technology last year, as the island upgrades its naval forces. The value of licenses granted by the British government to companies for the export of submarine-related components and technology to Taiwan totaled a record £167 million ($201.29 million) during the first nine months of last year, more than the previous six years combined.

Although the UK does not recognize Taiwan and has no formal diplomatic relations with the island, it maintains economic and trade ties and there is a de facto British embassy in Taipei.

The government said the UK has a long record of “granting licenses for exports of controlled goods to Taiwan, on a case-by-case basis, where those applications are consistent with the rules that regulate the exports of arms and dual-use products.”

“We consider the Taiwan issue one to be settled peacefully by the people on both sides of the Taiwan Strait through constructive dialogue, without the threat or use of force or coercion,” the statement added.

The approvals show both increased demand from Taiwan, and a British willingness to support the island. Some lawmakers believe authorizing the export licenses amounted to giving a green light to better equip Taiwan.

The UK government authorized 25 export licenses to Taiwan during the first nine months of 2022 under the categories “components for submarines” and “technology for submarines.”

The British government had announced on Monday plans for an increased defense spending, as it unveiled an update to its defense, security and foreign policy priorities, setting out how it plans to “tackle new threats” from China and Russia.

Military tensions between Beijing and Taipei are at their highest in decades. Taiwan said it is building a fleet of submarines to bolster naval defenses. Various foreign submarine technology sellers have been aiding Taiwan with the approval of their governments.

Taiwan’s defense ministry said in a statement that its ship-building programme was “a major national policy, and the navy has promoted various projects in a pragmatic way under it.”

“We hope that all walks of life will continue to give their support, to jointly maintain the security and peace of the Taiwan Strait,” the ministry said.

Taipei aims to test its first prototype by September and deliver the first of the planned eight vessels by 2025.

Since Taiwan announced its plans to build a submarine fleet in 2017, Britain’s granting of submarine-related licenses began to increase. Britain approved exports of £87 million worth of submarine components and technology to Taiwan in 2020, up from  only £31,415 in 2017 and none in 2016. However, the value of such licenses approved in 2021 dipped to just under £9 million.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine last year has raised questions in Britain and elsewhere in the West about other possible future flash points around the world.

Britain’s defense minister Wallace said last month that the West’s actions in support of Kyiv was a signal to other countries that grabbing land does not pay off. “This conflict is important because the world is watching whether the West will stand up for its values of freedom, democracy, liberal societies and the rule of law,” he said.

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