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Thai-China Submarine Deal Faces Delay

FILE - Thai navy officers line up during the celebrations for Thai King Maha Vajiralongkorn’s 67th birthday in Bangkok on July 28, 2019. (Photo by Lillian SUWANRUMPHA / AFP)
FILE - Thai navy officers line up during the celebrations for Thai King Maha Vajiralongkorn’s 67th birthday in Bangkok on July 28, 2019. (Photo by Lillian SUWANRUMPHA / AFP)
Thai-China Submarine Deal Faces Delay
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China has delayed construction of an attack submarine for Thailand’s navy. A Thai naval official says Germany refuses to export the engines needed to finish the submarine to China.

The delay could hurt Thailand’s military relations with China, which has replaced the United States as Thailand’s biggest arms supplier.

The Royal Thai Navy and China’s state-owned China Shipbuilding & Offshore International Company, or CSOC, signed the $402 million deal for the submarine in 2017. Thailand was expected to receive the submarine by the end of next year.

Local media reported in February that construction of what would be the country’s first submarine had stopped.

Rear Admiral Apichai Sompolgrunk is director general of the Thai navy’s purchasing office. He told VOA that the submarine was unlikely to arrive next year.

“Right now, the process of building the submarine is stuck because the engine is not concluded yet,” he said.

Apichai said the deal involved three diesel engines from Germany’s Motor and Turbine Union (MTU) company to run the submarine’s electrical system.

Philipp Doert is a German representative to Thailand. He wrote about his government’s decision to deny China the engines in a letter to The Bangkok Post newspaper in February.

“The export was refused because of its use for a Chinese military/defense industry item,” he wrote. “China did not ask/coordinate with Germany before signing the Thai-China contract, offering German MTU engines as part of their product.”

Trouble with engines

Sweden’s Stockholm International Peace Research Institute follows arms deals made around the world. The institute says MTU has provided China with over 100 of its engines for its destroyers and submarines from 1993 through 2020.

Asia-Pacific area expert Jon Grevatt said they do so by claiming the items can be for both military and civilian use. These so-called dual-use items are not included in a European Union trade ban with China. He said China’s sale of the submarine to Thailand, however, made the deal more difficult.

“If this submarine wasn’t being exported to Thailand, no one would know about it and therefore it would go ahead. But the fact that it is being exported, it’s in the news, is cause for the German government to say, ‘oh, no…we’re not allowing that,’” he said.

A spokesperson for MTU confirmed that the company has supplied China with engines but said they were not considered dual-use items.

In March, The Wall Street Journal newspaper reported that China’s Foreign Affairs Ministry said the EU trade ban was “inconsistent” with the current international order. The ministry added that it hoped the EU would make the “correct” decision about the engines.

Grevatt said CSOC would have a hard time replacing the MTU engine. Thailand, he said, “either manages to get the [MTU] engine or sees if China can produce one on its own.”

But that could be a problem. Grevatt said China still cannot produce engine systems with the power and dependability of those from the United States and Europe.

Apichai said CSOC has offered to build another engine for the submarine. But the Thai navy is not yet persuaded the proposed replacement would do the job.

“The engine is not well proven yet, so the Royal Thai Navy is still waiting for the answer from [CSOC] to ensure that this engine is as good as the MTU,” he said.

Apichai would not confirm or deny reports that China has also offered to send two other submarines to Thailand instead. But he said the Thai navy would not accept anything other than the model it ordered. He added there was also a long way to go before any talk of canceling the deal altogether.

I’m Jonathan Evans.

Zsombor Peter reported on this story for VOA News. Jonathan Evans adapted this story for Learning English.


Words in This Story

diesel – n. a heavy oil used as fuel in diesel engines

allow – v. to permit

inconsistent – adj. not staying the same in thoughts or practices