BANGKOK – The Royal Thai Navy announced Thursday that the government has suspended action on the high-profile one billion dollar submarine deal with China, which was still seeking final approval from the cabinet.
The decision to put the deal on hold came after domestic and international experts expressed concern over how the deal with Beijing would affect Bangkok’s relations with the U.S.
“We will wait for now and not introduce it to the cabinet for approval,” Prawit Wongsuwan, the deputy prime minister and defense minister, said, according to a report by China’s state-run Global Times. Wongsuwan reportedly also added that the Royal Thai Navy (RTN) would continue to conduct research on the suitability of the deal and weigh the costs and benefits to the country before finalizing the deal, according to Thailand’s Public Broadcasting Service.
“It’s clear that the U.S. definitely does not want to see any closer cooperation between China and Thailand, especially in terms of military and defense,” Li Haidong, a professor at the China Foreign Affairs University told the Global Times, who added that it is “understandable and predictable” that Thailand reacted this way because the U.S. diplomacy was a very important priority.
Historically, Bangkok has been a crucial ally for the U.S. in the Asia Pacific region, a relationship that is reciprocated by Thailand. However, China’s growing status as a global economic, political and military power has made Beijing an appealing regional partner to Thailand.
Now, bilateral ties between Beijing and Bangkok have been overshadowing those between Washington and Bangkok amid political turmoil following the 2014 coup that ousted Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra and put Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha in power. The U.S. has explicitly expressed a reluctance to work with the new prime minister and have pulled back involvement when it comes to their annual military drills, the Cobra Golden Exercise.
Meanwhile, The Royal Thai Navy has insisted its need for a submarine fleet and the 36 billion baht to be spent to purchase three Chinese submarines will be worth spending given the country’s vast marine resources worth an estimated of 24 trillion baht.
RTN commander-in-chief Admiral Kraisorn Chansuvanich said Friday that studies conducted by the RTN showed that marine resources in the territorial waters in the Gulf and the Andaman sea covering an area of 300,000 square miles were estimated to worth about 24 trillion baht.
Comparing with the 36 billion baht costs of the three Chinese submarines which have a life span of 30 years, the project was worth the spending and submarines are effective weapon to protect marine interests.
Admiral Kraisorn said RTN’s annual budget allocation amounted to about 40 billion baht and the submarine procurement would be on hire purchase basis which would not pose a financial burden to the government.
He said he would like the public to understand the necessity of the submarines and assured that the RTN would do what it could to fulfill its responsibility. But if the public disagree with the project, he said the RTN would accept that decision.