Tsai Ing-wen
Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen waves as she boards Hai Lung-class submarine (SS-794) during her visit to a navy base in Kaohsiung, Taiwan March 21, 2017 REUTERS/Tyrone Siu

Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen on Tuesday, (21 March) launched the Island nation's first submarine programme to counter an escalating military threat from China.

"Strengthening underwater combat capabilities is most needed in Taiwan's defense," Tsai said while touring a submarine at the southern naval port of Zuoying, which is located about 350km from the capital Taipei.

"This is a problem everyone recognizes. We have been unable to solve this in the past. As commander of the armed forces, I am determined to solve this problem," she added, reports Reuters.

The launch comes after Beijing sent its aircraft carrier Liaoning through the Taiwan Strait in January. Taiwan has also said it would boost its military to counter China.

On Monday, Defence Minister Feng Shih-kuan told parliament of Taiwan: "If there was no threat across the Taiwan Strait, then we do not have to purchase arms."

The submarine delivery is expected to take eight years and will be a part of the country's defence policy.

"I want to tell you all that the Taiwanese always face challenges bravely and overcome them," she said at a formal signing ceremony to start off the project. The submarine will be built by a joint venture between the navy, a ship building corporation and National Chung-Shan Institute of Science and Technology.

"Making a submarine isn't the problem. It is making what kind of submarine that is the problem," Gao Chung-hsing, Vice President of the Institute said.

At present, Taiwanese navy has four submarines that were purchased abroad and only two of them can be operated during war time. The other two built by the US in the 1940s are too old and can be used only for training.

The United States is Taipei's main supplier of arms and its most powerful ally. The island nation launched the project after spending years in waiting for US models. In 2001, an offer approved by George W Bush to supply eight submarines to Taiwan has been stalled.