TAIPEI/BEIJING -- Taiwan on Thursday announced the commissioning of a powerful, locally built warship capable of taking on both air and sea threats.
The Ta Chiang corvette is being deployed at the Suao naval base in Yilan County, in the island's northeast, where the hope is that the presence of what has been dubbed a "carrier killer" will deter growing military pressure from mainland China.
At a ceremony there to mark the commissioning, President Tsai Ing-wen called the ship a step on the "road to autonomy in our national defense, and proof that we can overcome whatever difficulties may arise."
Asked about the vessel in a news conference Thursday, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian responded that "the attempt of Taiwan separatist forces to confront the mainland militarily can lead nowhere."
The Ta Chiang is an upgrade to the Tuo Chiang class and Taiwan's first locally built vessel with both anti-air and anti-ship capabilities. It took more than two years to build.
The corvette features 28 missiles, including Hsiung Feng II and III anti-ship and Sea Sword II anti-aircraft missiles. It has a catamaran-style hull that enables fast, stealthy travel, with a top speed of about 40 knots, or about 74 kph.
The deployment of the ship to a base on Taiwan's eastern coast comes in response to a recent upswing in Chinese military activity in the area.
Chinese warships have sailed around from the mainland to the island's eastern side. Three guided-missile destroyers passed on Sunday between Taiwan and Japan's westernmost point, the island of Yonaguni, before heading north to the East China Sea.
"The main purpose was to survey the surrounding waters for a foray from the mainland past the 'first island chain' to the Pacific Ocean," said Su Tzu-yun, head of the defense strategy division at Taiwan's Institute for National Defense and Security Research. The first island chain refers to an area that extends from the Chinese mainland to Japan's Okinawa islands, Taiwan and the Philippines.
Su also suspects Beijing was gathering information with an eye toward encircling Taiwan from the east -- seen as a defensive weak link -- for a potential attack.
Responding to this threat requires a speedy deployment of ships to Taiwan's eastern side. Taipei until recently had little capacity to build its own advanced warships, instead relying on purchases from overseas partners, mainly the U.S.
But that left Taiwan at the mercy of political decisions by these countries, and in recent years, a growing number have had second thoughts about deals with Taipei that could anger China. Even Washington had until 2017 slashed arms sales to Taiwan out of concern about relations with Beijing.
With aircraft and ship fleets aging, Tsai reworked Taiwan's weapons procurement strategy after taking office in 2016, looking to build warships at home -- like the Ta Chiang -- to beef up Taipei's defense capabilities.
Work finally began last November on long-delayed plans for an indigenous submarine, with construction now underway in Kaohsiung.
The four subs Taiwan now has in service are decades old and lack real firepower. The U.S. had reached a deal in 2001 to sell new subs to Taipei, but the sale was never completed, due to such factors as strong objections from Beijing.
Taiwan finally opted to take the homegrown route, and the first of eight planned vessels is set to be commissioned as soon as 2024.