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Thailand in talks with China to swap submarine for naval vessels

Thailand in talks with China to swap submarine for naval vesselsLegacy

Defence Minister Sutin Klungsang is near finalising discussions with China to acquire alternative naval vessels instead of a submarine, aiming to conclude the talks by the end of this month. The negotiations began following Klungsang’s recent trip to China, where he introduced the proposal.

China has shown openness to Thailand’s request to purchase two offshore patrol vessels (OPVs) or a frigate in place of the S26T Yuan-class submarine. The change in plans was prompted by China’s inability to meet a specific engine requirement for the submarine.

The initial intent of the Royal Thai Navy (RTN) was to equip the submarine with a German-manufactured engine. However, Germany declined to integrate its engines with Chinese military equipment. China suggested a domestically-produced engine as a replacement but this never came to fruition.

Sutin, who is known to favour suspending the submarine project in favour of procuring another frigate, confirmed that the first discussions took place over a video call after his last week’s trip. He expressed his belief that while a final agreement is unlikely to be reached through a single conversation, the talks should conclude within this month. Following this, the revised deal will be presented to the cabinet for approval.

During his meeting in China, Sutin presented several proposals, keeping three factors in mind: the navy’s necessities, Thailand’s interests, and ensuring the over 7 billion baht spent on the submarine was not wasted. The Thai delegation also expressed the Thai public’s worries about the quality of the Chinese-made engine, since it had never been used before. Nevertheless, they also conveyed understanding towards China, as the submarine construction was reported to be halfway complete.

While China is open to the proposed swap, the exact prices and models of the frigate and OPVs are yet to be agreed upon. Sutin reassured that this issue would not negatively affect bilateral relations, as long as the proposal is reasonable.

Klungsang expressed no worries about potential investigations by the National Anti-Corruption Commission regarding the changes to the submarine deal. He assured that the decision would be approved by the cabinet, ensuring its legality and alignment with the nation’s best interests.

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