The Honourable Defence Minister of Thailand, Sutin Klungsang, recently announced his plans to entrust the Royal Thai Navy with the task of negotiating with China for a more favourable cost for a warship. This turn of events comes on the heels of the government’s preference for a frigate as opposed to a submarine. The naval delegation is expected to journey to China next week to involve in vital negotiations, before the pre-existing contract between both countries expires within a month. Whether China is amenable to this discussion is yet unascertainable.
At dialogue preparatory meetings held with the navy on a recent Tuesday, Minister Sutin reassured the Thai community that the government will strive for a win-win negotiation, preventing any disadvantageous situation for Thailand. Mandarin speakers might describe it as: Yi Shi Zu Dao – Killing two birds with one stone.
Sutin further clarified that the dialogue focuses on contract revision and not amendment. This scenario underscores the dialogue as a direct negotiation between Royal Thai Navy and the Chinese company in question, without any governmental intermediary.
Just at the dawn of the previous week, the Thai government, in an unexpected change of heart, decided to procure a Chinese-built frigate as a replacement for a certain submarine initially ordered in 2017. This submarine-switch caught the Thai community by surprise, more so than their yearly water festival, Songkran, due to the estimated expense of around 17 billion baht, outspending the initially ordered submarine by several billions. Critics are now questioning the financial sanity behind this decision to pay more for a frigate while China has fallen short of its contractual obligation.
Addressing the ensuing controversy, Sutin stressed that fitting the submarine with a German-engine, as Thailand had previously requested, was impossible for China. Based on price comparisons, a European-made frigate is priced at 17 billion baht while the Chinese variant is roughly 14 billion baht.
Sutin was however quite philosophical in stating that backup plans had been in place for such an eventuality, with two viable options; frigate purchase or an Offshore Patrol Vessel (OPV). He hinted that due justice would first be pursued in ironing out the submarine-frigate negotiation figures before they broach the subplot of refunds.
Refund requests are a complex situation given that they impact multi-dimensional cooperation fields. Meanwhile, noted parliamentary figure, list-MP Wiroj Lakkhanaadisorn, suggested on his Facebook post that Thailand should rather seek a refund of 7 billion baht that was initially paid for the non-delivered submarine and also impose a fine for non-compliance.
Mr. Wiroj, the current Chair of the House committee on military affairs, stated that while a frigate or an OPV would be suitable options, the government should also lay emphasis on auxiliary costs associated with maintenance, spare parts, and various arrangements.
To foster transparency, an invitation has been extended to the navy by the house committee, so they can elucidate on the submarine procurement tale in the forthcoming session. This endeavour will ensure the general public remains privy to the developments.
Amping up the public’s attention, an ex-election commissioner, Somchai Srisutthiyakorn, uncovered details of the budget expended by the navy on the submarine procurement project on his Facebook page. Apparently, a colossal sum of 8.7 billion baht was spent on various elements linked with this procurement plan, excluding an additional payment of over 7 billion baht made to China.