Under fire, PM docks controversial THB22.5B submarine buy

PM Prayuth Chan-o-cha is the figurehead on a submarine sculpture at the current ‘Unmuted Project’ art exhibition in Soi Thonglor 3. Photo: Coconuts
PM Prayuth Chan-o-cha is the figurehead on a submarine sculpture at the current ‘Unmuted Project’ art exhibition in Soi Thonglor 3. Photo: Coconuts

The military will put its submarine shopping spree on ice, the prime minister announced today, after a week of withering criticism since the news leaked.

PM Prayuth Chan-o-cha, who also serves as defense minister, said he would attempt to delay for one year the THB22.5 billion (US$725 million) purchase of the nation’s second and third submarines under a buy two-get-three scheme from China; according to his office’s spokesperson, Anucha Burapachaisri.

Anucha said the Royal Thai Navy would seek to renegotiate the deal with Beijing.

Before today’s announcement, navy spokesperson Prachachart Sirisawat said last week that the spendy submarine buy was necessary to safeguard national interests because of the situation in the South China Sea, a resource-rich area with competing sovereign claims.

Thailand first signed the contract to buy three subs in 2017 for a total of THB36 billion. The first installment of THB13.5 billion was already paid for the first, which is expected to be delivered in 2023.

The controversial deal resurfaced Aug. 22 after a parliamentary financial subcommittee approved paying the second portion of the contract, which would cover the remaining two submarines. It was strongly criticized by the public for being unnecessary and wasteful as the nation’s economy tanks during the COVID-19 pandemic.

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