Thailand’s long-planned purchase of three Chinese submarines, which a former senior Bangkok diplomat described as “an insult to the conventional relationship between Thailand and the United States”, could run into trouble, officials said. said officials and analysts.
In April 2017, the Thai government approved the Royal Navy’s plan to buy three Yuan-class submarines from China worth 36 billion baht ($1.05 billion). Due to budget constraints, the purchase of one submarine – now valued at 13.5 billion baht ($403 million) – was given the green light, but the other two were shelved.
The Chinese state-owned submarine developer – China Shipbuilding & Offshore International Co. (CSOC) – could not get the diesel engine from Germany to fit the submarine due to the European Union arms embargo imposed on China, according to a German official. The engine is manufactured by the German Engines and Turbines Union (MTU).
“Export [of the engine] was denied due to its use for a Chinese military/defense industry item,” Philipp Doert, the German defense attache in Thailand, told the Bangkok Post. “China did not request/coordinate with Germany before signing the contract between Thailand and China, offering German MTU engines as part of their product.”
The EU imposed its arms embargo on China in 1989 after the violent crackdown on pro-democracy protests in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square.
Relations between Thailand and China “are not affected”
Earlier this week, Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-o-cha said that if China cannot meet the deal, the submarine deal could be cancelled.
“What do you do with a submarine without an engine? Why should we buy it? Prayuth, who is the country’s defense minister, told local media.
Earlier, Vice Admiral Pokkrong Monthatphalin, spokesman for the Royal Thai Navy, said talks were to be held later this month with the CSOC to discuss the engine issue.
Local media reported that CSOC offered an alternative engine – an offer rejected by the government, which paid its first installment of 700 million baht ($20.9 million) in 2017. Delivery of the submarine is scheduled for 2024.
Despite his concerns, Prayuth told Thai reporters that any cancellation would not affect China-Thai relations, according to the Bangkok Post.
One analyst, meanwhile, said Bangkok’s growing military ties with China have led to trust issues with the United States.
“Thailand and the United States are treaty allies. Thailand has been designated by the United States as a non-NATO ally,” Kasit Piromya, a former Thai foreign minister, told BenarNews.
“The fact that Thailand ordered the Chinese submarines is an insult to the treaty relationship between Thailand and the United States,” he said, adding that the problem “must be reset and fixed.”
Earlier this year, the Royal Thai Air Force expressed interest in purchasing F-35 stealth fighter jets from the United States.
But the United States would be reluctant to sell its cutting-edge jets to Bangkok because of the close ties between the Thai military and its Chinese counterpart, said Ian Storey, senior fellow at ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute in Singapore.
In addition, relations between Thailand and the United States have had their ups and downs in recent years.
“Thai’s military establishment resents criticism of its role in Thai politics from the United States and Western allies, while China shuns political judgment and offers military hardware at the cost of friendship,” Kasit said.
“The result is that Thailand and the United States have failed to hold sincere talks as allies and strategic partners,” he said.
Southeast Asian countries, especially those with competing claims in the South China Sea, are joining the submarine club to tackle new security challenges.
Vietnam has bought six Kilo-class submarines from Russia, Indonesia and the Philippines are considering buying submarines from France. Singapore and Malaysia operate four and two submarines respectively.
China has by far the largest fleet in Asia, with around 76 submarines. The Yuan class is a diesel-electric submarine designed to operate in shallow coastal waters, according to the American Naval Institute.