A Taiwanese flag is seen behind standard Type II missiles on the destroyer Kee Lung during a drill near Yilan naval base, Taiwan, on April 13, 2018. Photo: Reuters / Tyrone Siu

Taiwan’s navy has submitted a request to the government for NT$33.6 billion (US$1 billion) to build 50-ton fast-attack missile boats, the Taiwan-based Central New Agency (CAN) reported.

The missile-armed boats are part of an effort to strengthen Taiwan’s asymmetric warfare capabilities in the face of a growing military imbalance vis-a-vis China in the Taiwan Strait, CAN quoted a high-ranking defense official.

The request was submitted to Taiwan’s parliament on Friday, the report said.

Shifting from its past heavy reliance on conventional forces, Taiwan will now focus on “quality, efficiency and precision over quantity,” the same anonymous defense official said.

The aim to build fast-attack missile boats is part of that new streamlined defense doctrine, which also prescribes the development of mobile air defense systems and anti-armor weaponry. The envisioned boats will be relatively small, fast and capable of being armed with missiles, guns or torpedoes, reports said.

The planned attack boats will be equipped in particular with two Hsiung Feng II anti-ship missiles, the official quoted in the CNA report said. The Navy’s defense proposal also seeks NT$917.77 million to build four naval minelayers to deter enemy ships, the same official said.

Under China’s President Xi Jinping, Beijing has increased and intensified naval and air patrols around Taiwan, which it sees as a renegade province. In March this year, Xi said that Taiwan would face the “punishment of history” for any attempt at “separatism.”

That would mean the self-ruled island would declare itself as a separate Taiwanese republic, not “the Republic of China”, as it is now officially known. Many Taiwanese feel they have a separate identity from China, which Beijing refutes in its frequent claims the strategically positioned island is an inseparable part of China.

China has not ruled out the use of force to “reunite” the island with the mainland, the driving force behind Taiwan’s moves to strengthen and modernize its defense forces and naval capabilities.

China’s hostility towards Taiwan has intensified since the 2016 election of President Tsai Ing-wen, a member of the pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party.

She recently paid a high-profile visit to the United States – including a visit to America’s National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) headquarters – that no doubt would have had antenna raising in Beijing.

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