Navy Defies Cabinet, Asks China to Sign Submarine Deal: Source

An image released by the Chinese authorities shows a Yuan-class submarine in operation.

BANGKOK — A source within the Royal Thai Navy said Monday its leadership tried to encourage the Chinese defense agencies to put into writing an intent to sell two Yuan-class submarines to Thailand, despite a Cabinet resolution suspending the deal. 

According to the source, navy top commander Adm. Luechai Ruddit asked China via a secret letter to send a delegate to the Thai navy’s base in Chonburi and seal the agreement for the procurement of the second and third submarines within 30 Sept. – the day Adm. Luechai is due to retire. 

“Failure to do so will definitely jeopardize this essential project; meaning we have to start the whole project again from scratch,” part of the letter seen by Khaosod English said. 

It was addressed to Xu Zhanbin, vice director of China’s State Administration for Science, Technology and Industry for National Defense, or SASTIND. 

Thailand inked the deal for its first submarine from China in 2018, with two more on the way. But the government agreed to delay the procurement in August amid outcry that Thailand’s economy and financial situation were already overwhelmed by the coronavirus pandemic. 

“The Prime Minister has given priority to the concern of the public who are worried about the economy,” government spokesman Anucha Burapachaisri said on Aug. 31. “The navy will negotiate with China to delay for another year.”

But the confidential letter reportedly issued by the Thai navy pressed the Chinese counterpart for a contract signing by the end of this month.

“From my personal experience, let me reiterate the most important point here that if we are not able to sign the agreement in question within 30th of September 2020 in accordance with the conditions and circumstances set forth in the said law, the whole project will need to start from zero again,” the letter said.

Navy spokesman Prachachat Sirisawat said on the telephone that he has not seen the letter and cannot comment on it. 

The Royal Thai Navy holds a news conference on the submarine procurement plan on Aug. 24, 2020.

The document also suggested that the Chinese authorities assign the Chinese ambassador to Thailand as the party representing China for the contract signing “because delay from the quarantine measures can then simply be avoided.”

The Embassy of the People’s Republic of China in Bangkok said it has not been contacted by any entity mentioned in the letter. 

The alleged correspondence went on to blame resistance to the submarine deal on the anti-government movement and foreign competitors. 

“The most serious obstacle against the submarine procurement project is that this issue has been politicized by the anti-government movement, coupled with many pressure from arms dealers from other foreign countries who have tried to abort the projects so they will instead benefit from this portion of the budgets,” it said. 

The two additional submarines were priced at 22.5 billion baht. Defense officials said the fleet of three subs is needed to enhance Thailand’s maritime defense and act as a deterrent in future conflicts.