Taiwan President Chen Shui-bian yesterday expressed alarm over the rapid expansion of the mainland’s naval power, which he said posed a threat to the island’s security.

The build-up over the past few years “poses a threat … to regional stability and our national security,” Chen said during an inspection of a Taiwanese naval taskforce at Keelung harbor in the island’s north, according to the South China Morning Post.

In response, “the Defense Ministry has worked out comprehensive and far-sighted plans. The navy will emerge as a brand-new force,” he said.

The naval taskforce – comprised of a locally built Perry-class frigate, a French-built Lafayette-class frigate and a logistics supply vessel – is scheduled to sail to the Caribbean later this month for an annual long-distance naval cadet training program.

Defense Minister Tang Yiau-ming spoke of his alarm in October when a mainland destroyer from the North Sea fleet for the first time sailed through the waters east of Taiwan to join exercises in the South China Sea.

Chen did not go into details about Taiwan’s own naval build-up, but its highlights include the purchase of four U.S. second-hand Kidd-class destroyers and eight conventional submarines. President Bush in April 2001 approved the sale of eight diesel-electric submarines as part of the U.S. government’s most comprehensive arms package to the island since 1992.

The first submarines will join the Taiwanese navy in 2010 at the earliest. The Pentagon had in the past rejected Taiwan requests for submarines because they were considered offensive weapons.

It now argues that submarines are the best defense against a growing mainland submarine threat to Taiwan’s harbors and fleet.

The mainland has repeatedly threatened to invade Taiwan if it declares independence. It is thought there are more than 400 missiles along the Fujian coastline facing the island.

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