Thailand's military government has finally approved a multi-million dollar budget for its Royal Navy to purchase a Chinese-made submarine and tanks. It will be the first submarine that Bangkok will get in almost seven decades despite critics questioning the need for a submarine now.
The governments have signed a deal worth Thai baht 13.5m ($380m) for the purchase of 10 tanks and auxiliary vehicles from China. In addition, Thailand will be getting 28 main battle tanks that were ordered from Beijing last year in a major move to boost its naval and military forces.
The deal was almost finalised with the Chinese government over six years ago, with the budget also earmarked to pay for the submarine, Thai navy officials said. The talks were paused last year following criticism that submarines are a waste of money for the country.
"We are in the process of negotiating but this year there will definitely be a signing agreement as we have the budget," Thai Navy spokesman Admiral Jumpol Loompikanon told Reuters.
He pointed out that the submarine will help the navy in studying tactics and how submarine warfare may be used against the country.
Class S26T, the first of three submarines from China, should be ready by this year, Jumpol said. It is reported to be the first submarine in service since 1951. The last time Thailand purchased a submarine was in 1938 – from Japan – but it was decommissioned in 1951.
The Chinese submarine has a submerged displacement of 2,600 tonnes and is also equipped with an air-independent propulsion system, which allows the submarine to stay under water for up to three weeks at a stretch, according to the Bangkok Post.
The deal is expected to boost ties between China and Thailand, especially since Bangkok is the oldest ally of the US in the Southeast Asian region. Beijing was the first big country to acknowledge Thailand's ruling junta following a coup in 2014, even as Washington responded by freezing nearly $5m of security-related aid besides cancelling some security deals.