Amid the economic slump due to COVID-19 pandemic, the recent 22.5 billion baht submarine purchase of two S-26T by the Thailand government from China has irked the citizens. Bangkok Post reported that the submarines are among three items, which the then military regime under Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha, who was the leader of the now-defunct National Council for Peace and Order, approved in 2017 under a 36-billion-baht contract in a hush-hush manner hoping that the issue would escape public attention.
Thailand Navy has reported that the purchase of the first submarine is already complete and will be delivered in 2024. The navy has further said China has agreed to provide “free of charge” CM-708 missiles, which can be fired from the submarines over a range of 290 km.
Revealing the true nature of the deal, Bangkok Post quoted Yutthapong Jarassathian, a Pheu Thai Party MP and a subcommittee member, as saying that the procurement contract didn’t mention an obligation on the Thai government to acquire the other two. On August 23, Yutthapong said the deal was “invalid” as it was not a genuine government-to-government deal.
Bangkok Post further quoted him as saying that navy chief Adm Luechai Ruddit who signed on behalf of Thailand had no authority to represent the government and the Chinese company, which signed the contract was also not representing the Chinese government either.
For signing such a deal only the Prime Minister or the foreign minister can legally represent the government and only the defence minister is able to be assigned that authority if necessary, he added.
He has also been reported as revealing that there is no part of the contract that stipulates the purchase of a second and third submarine as claimed by the government. As the country could have used the 22.5 billion baht to help people who have been worst affected due to the COVID-19 pandemic like unemployed people and poor families, the opposition bloc is determined to knock the deal down during the lower House debate next month.
Citing the Arms Flows to South East Asia report released in 2019 by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, Bangkok Post reported that China took the advantage of the large gap created when the military regime under Gen Prayut suffered isolation as several European arms suppliers were forced to re-evaluate their relations with Thailand following the 2014 coup.
China, which was “willing to fill” the gap, endorsed the military regime, maintaining close ties, and, hence, got orders for tanks, armoured vehicles, and submarines after 2015. In other words, China received a big part of Thailand’s military budget. (ANI)