Submarine turns yellow


Press Association

The UK upgrades Taiwan's submarine fleet.

A cross-party group of British MPs visited Taiwan. Everything would be fine, but the main item on the program of the visit, which greatly excited China, was the discussion of the submarine fleet development program. The head of the delegation, Conservative MP Bob Stewart, said that Taiwan "is at the forefront of the struggle for democracy and is ready to take any action to protect it."

Last year, exports of British technology, equipment and components for Taiwanese submarines increased manifold. In the first nine months of 2022, the British government approved the transfer of 25 licenses worth 167 million pounds ($206 million). That's more than the previous six years put together. There is some more recent data, which has not yet been confirmed by the Taiwanese side, but in general the vector is clear. By comparison, in 2008, when the modernization program was born, Britain allocated 3.3 million pounds for it.

In 2017, Taiwan officially announced the creation of a serious submarine fleet. There are plans to test the first prototype of a new submarine in September and to launch the first of nine submarines in 2025.

The Chinese Foreign Ministry expectedly issued a statement: "If this is true, it is a serious violation of the one-China principle, undermines China's sovereignty and security interests, and undermines peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait."

But different states have different approaches to the "one China" principle. Western countries in one way or another have demonstrated their support for Taiwan without recognizing its independence. The UK, too, has no official diplomatic relations with the island, but maintains serious trade relations and de facto even has a hidden embassy in Taipei.

The British government issued a statement that "exports to Taiwan are under control, and compliance with arms and dual-use goods regulations is checked on a case-by-case basis.

Then why is there such a demand for licenses? According to open data of the Export Control Organization, which is a structure of the UK Department for International Trade, all 25 licenses fall under the categories of "components for submarines" and "technology for submarines. However, it is not specified which companies get the right to export licenses and what specific equipment is meant.

One license, labeled ML9, includes "combat ships, special shipping equipment, components and other surface vessels. The other, ML22, is for "technology necessary for the development, manufacture, installation, repair and maintenance of equipment or software. According to the British military list, special permission is required to export all this goodness.

It is also true that it is not in the best interest of both sides to share the details of the supply package. Tobias Ellwood, head of the Defense Committee of the House of Commons, visited Taiwan in December 2022 and told Reuters then: "Any announcement of the specifics of our exports could lead to disclosure of confidential information about Taiwan's defense capabilities, and so the UK government's caution in discussing these exports is justified."

In general, British parliamentarians and experts of all levels have frequented the island. An official representative of the Chinese Foreign Ministry even said: "We urge the British side to refrain from any form of special exchanges with Taiwan, as they send false signals to separatist forces."


Not many people heed these appeals. Last November, Rishi Sunak recalled a term that his predecessor David Cameron coined in 2015. Sunak stated literally the following: "The so-called 'Golden Era' of relations with China is over. The naive idea that successful trade could lead to social and political reform has also been buried. We recognize China's policy as a systemic challenge to our values and interests, a policy that leads to even greater authoritarianism."

Britain periodically publishes its vision of the world order, or more precisely, its vision of itself in the surrounding world, in the Integrated Review (security, defense, development and foreign affairs policies). Sunak, despite clearly tightening his narrative on China compared to the pre-election campaign, did not refer to China as a "threat," although his predecessor, Liz Truss, had intended to prescribe exactly that definition in the Integrated Review.

Former Tory leader Ian Duncan Smith believes that Sunak's "systemic challenge" is about nothing. "China understands strength and clearly sees weakness. And this is nothing but a manifestation of weakness.»

Indeed, in the circles of British defense experts there is an understanding that, although, geographically the closest threat to them is Russia, if the Arctic ice continues to melt, the Chinese submarine fleet will immediately find itself off the shores of Europe. And this year's Integrated Review notes that a possible conflict in the Indo-Pacific region could have more serious consequences than the crisis in Ukraine.

Speaking of this region, it should be noted that the British submarine fleet should soon double - by 2030, the first new submarines will already be in service. By 2040, under the Aukus (Australia-UK-US) pact, Australia will receive new submarines not only from British designs, but also from British Rolls-Royce and BAE Systems factories. Taiwanese submarines could also be helpful.