Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen on Tuesday vowed to defend the democratic island's sovereignty with the construction of a new fleet of domestically-developed submarines, a key project supported by the United States to counter neighbouring China.
Taiwan, which China claims as its own territory, has been for years working to revamp its submarine force, some of which date back to World War Two, and is no match for China's fleet, which includes vessels capable of launching nuclear weapons.
At a ceremony to mark the start of construction of a new submarine fleet in the southern port city of Kaohsiung, Tsai called the move a "historic milestone" for Taiwan's defensive capabilities after overcoming "various challenges and doubts".
"The construction demonstrates Taiwan's strong will to the world to protect its sovereignty," she told the event, which was also attended by the de facto US ambassador in Taiwan, Brent Christensen.
"Submarines are important equipment for the development of Taiwan's navy's asymmetric warfare capabilities and to deter enemy ships from encircling Taiwan."
The US government in 2018 gave the green light for US manufacturers to participate in the programme, a move widely seen as helping Taiwan secure major components, though it is unclear which US companies are involved.
State-backed CSBC Corporation Taiwan said it would deliver the first of the eight planned submarines in 2025, giving a major boost to Tsai's military modernisation and self-sufficiency plan.
Company chairman Cheng Wen-lung said they had faced major challenges, including difficulty procuring parts as well as "external forces hindering the development of this programme".
Taiwan's armed forces are mostly equipped by the United States, but Tsai has made development of an advanced home-grown defence industry a priority.
In June, Tsai oversaw the first public test flight of a new locally designed and made advanced jet trainer.
Chinese forces have ramped up their military activities near Taiwan, on occasion flying fighter jets across the unofficial buffer median line of the sensitive Taiwan Strait.
Having 'Good Interactions' With Biden Team
Taiwan has been having "good interactions" with US President-elect Joe Biden's team, the foreign ministry said on Tuesday, as it seeks to cement ties with the incoming administration after getting strong support from President Donald Trump's government.
Claimed by China but democratically ruled, Taiwan enjoyed unprecedented backing from Republican Trump's administration, including stepped-up arms sales and visits by top officials to Taipei.
The election of Biden, a Democrat, has caused some unease in Taiwan, where Trump remains a popular figure amongst the public.
Still, Taiwan has sought to underscore its confidence in ties, noting bipartisan support for the island in Washington. This month, Taiwan's de facto ambassador in Washington spoke to longtime Biden confidant Antony Blinken, now tapped as the next secretary of state.
Taiwan foreign ministry spokeswoman Joanne Ou said the island had good contacts with both the Democratic and Republican parties.
"The foreign ministry and our representative office in the United States have continued to maintain smooth communication and have good interactions with the Biden team via various appropriate means," she said.
"At the same time, we have also conveyed Taiwan's sincere gratitude to the current Trump administration. The current Taiwan-US relationship is at its best in history. We sincerely thank you."
Taiwan will continue to play the role of a close and reliable partner to the United States, whether in regional or global issues, Ou added.
The United States, like most countries, has no formal diplomatic ties with Taiwan, but is its strongest backer on the international stage and major source of arms, to China's anger, becoming another major irritant in Sino-US ties.