BANGKOK — A transparency gadfly on Friday slammed the military’s latest purchase of 14 Chinese battle tanks as an unnecessary waste of money – a claim disputed by the defense ministry.
The 2.3 billion baht used to buy the VT-4 tanks could have been better spent on infrastructure and public health, Srisuwan Janya wrote in an online post. The new tanks will join a battalion of 39 Chinese-made tanks the army bought last year.
Srisuwan also questioned why the military has only relied on Chinese arms suppliers in recent years. Defense ministry spokesman Kongcheep Tantravanich said the People’s Republic offers the best deals.
“If we were to buy American tanks, they’d be twice as expensive,” Maj. Gen. Kongcheep said. “Who wouldn’t prefer Mercedes-Benz over Isuzu? But this is all we can afford. That’s what the armed forces want. They are being frugal.”
The tank is powered by a turbocharged diesel engine, seats three and comes standard with a 125mm large-caliber gun augmented by an anti-aircraft heavy machine gun and anti-infantry machine gun, according to maker Norinco’s specs.
The purchase was announced Wednesday by the military just days after new army chief Apirat Kongsompong visited the Chinese defense minister in Beijing. Gen. Apirat said at the meeting that Thailand would work even more closely with the Chinese military throughout 2019.
In a statement, the army said its arsenal of US-made M-41s was now four decades old and must be replaced. The armed forces initially considered buying tanks from Ukraine, but broke the deal off due to conflict there, it added.
The 14 new tanks will come with thousands of rounds of ammunition, the army said. They are the latest weaponry Thailand has bought from China, following the purchase of missiles, armored vehicles and submarines.
In today’s interview, Kongcheep defended the dependence on Chinese arms.
“China is now at the forefront of military technology,” the spokesman said. “They even have AI. We should stop looking down on them.”
Clarification: An earlier version of this story cited an army statement about “internal conflict” to describe violence in Ukraine. After considering a complaint from the Ukrainian government that it mischaracterizes violence instigated by Russia, we have changed the phrase to “conflict.”