The Royal Thai Navy insists, however, that talks with its Chinese counterparts on the programme will continue and that it is necessary for Thailand’s strategic maritime defence. A spokesman highlighted that this was an intergovernmental agreement between Thailand and China negotiated at a diplomatic level without intermediaries.
For the second year running, Prime Minister Prayut Chan ocha has moved to defer instalment payments for Chinese submarines which were slated as part of the 2022 budget given the current virus emergency and the need to deploy financial resources to assist the population at this time.
A spokesman for the Royal Thai Navy has confirmed that it has withdrawn its 2022 budget request to pay for two advanced submarines from China after the Prime Minister intervened in the matter for the second time in two years.
Public anger has been stoked again recently by the issue with continuing protests against the plan by Thailand to purchase Chinese made submarines even though the budgetary provision had already been deferred once before.
Navy lobbied in parliament last week for the 2022 budget provision which is now once again deferred
Last year in August, the Thai government postponed the initial payment on the purchase of two advanced Chinese Yuan-class S26T submarines for ฿22.5 billion until 2022.
This week, before parliament, the leadership of the navy continued to lobby for funding for the project stating it was its duty and mission to do so.
Commenting on the latest developments, on Sunday, a navy spokesman Lieutenant General Koncheep Tantravanich emphasised that despite this, talks concerning the procurement plan would continue with the navy’s Chinese counterparts.
Navy argued the submarines were necessary to strengthen the kingdom’s maritime security
He said that it was necessary to strengthen Thailand’s maritime forces to deal with the current security environment. The naval officer insisted that, at present, Thailand has limited abilities in this respect.
He made it clear that the matter was one of great value to the kingdom as it must strive to maintain its security and national interests.
Spokesman confirms PM’s appeal to withdraw the spending plan for 2022 as money is needed elsewhere
He then referred to the appeal from the Prime Minister to withdraw the project at the current time in the light of pressing demands on the kingdom’s resources which need to be deployed elsewhere.
He said that the navy had assessed the current situation in relation to the budget for 2022 and had agreed to the request for the funding transfer given the widespread impact of the COVID-19 crisis on the population.
Talks with Chinese defence agencies to continue
He indicated that the navy will enter discussions with Chinese defence agencies to explain the current predicament in the country and the reason for the latest postponement.
Lieutenant General Koncheep explained that the navy’s submarine procurement programme was, in fact, an intergovernmental agreement.
In it, Thailand and China had agreed on transparent co-operation.
The agreement does not involve third-party intermediaries or companies.
He said that the Royal Thai Air Force has similar arrangements with Chinese defence authorities and, in particular, the Chinese Navy.
These arrangements had been made through diplomatic channels.
Navy’s submarine programme should not be politicised says spokesman, it is intergovernmental
The navy spokesman said that it was also important that the navy’s submarine programme does not become a political matter.
He said the Royal Thai Navy was anxious to maintain both public confidence and good international relations with partners.
The news came after the navy, earlier this week, defended the spending provision in the 2022 budget for instalment payments on the 2 submarines for ฿22.5 billion.
The leadership of the navy said it was aware of the current adverse circumstances that the country finds itself in and would have to accept whatever decision was made by parliament on the matter but at the same time, it vigorously defended the provision and the plans to upgrade the submarine fleet.
Officers last week said they were only doing their duty by pursuing the Navy’s mission in seeking funding
Last week, as the House of Representatives Committee again reviewed the budget for the submarines, Navy spokesman Admiral Chettha Jaipiam made it clear that the force was only doing its duty and pursuing its mission.
‘It’s a matter of procedure. There is no ulterior motive,’ he told reporters as he acknowledged the current circumstances facing Thailand. ‘We face resistance whenever the issue is brought before the committee. It’s not the first time we’ve been given a dressing down.’
The main opposition party, Pheu Thai, has long opposed the submarine project and last year, before the plan was postponed, attacked the submarine purchase plan approved by the junta government of Prayut Chan ocha in 2017 as not being transparent or a genuine government to government agreement.
Defence chiefs did not testify before the House of Representatives committee noted Pheu Thai MP
This week, Pheu Thau MP Yuttapong Charasathien noted that the heads of the armed forces had not testified before the committee on matters relating to the defence budget for 2022.
Mr Yuttapong is one of the most vocal critics of the plan to purchase the Chinese submarines.
Last year, he was attacked by Deputy Chief of Staff Vice Admiral Prachachat Sirisawat for sowing hatred towards the military because of his stance on the issue.
‘The Navy’s government-to-government purchase was done transparently. It’s the government to government rice deal done by Pheu Thai that was fake,’ the Naval officer blasted at the parliamentarian.
He was referring to the now-infamous rice deal with China during the administration of Yingluck Shinawatra which was later found by the courts to be corrupt and saw former commerce minister Boonsong Teriyapirom jailed for 42 years in August 2017.