Arms factory deal edges closer
Plan for China weapon facility 'ready in July'
A plan to build a production and maintenance facility for Chinese weapons in Thailand is expected to be finalised by July, according to Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwon.
First revealed to the public late last year after Gen Prawit's trip to Beijing, the plan, which will also make Thailand an armament technology transfer hub, has been gathering momentum with talks between officials from both countries making progress.
By July, "approval should be sought to build a maintenance facility", defence ministry spokesman Gen Kongcheep Tantrawanit quoted Gen Prawit as saying. He was speaking after the deputy prime minister chaired a Defence Council meeting Monday.
The idea to build the facility comes amid closer Thai and Chinese military ties since the coup toppled the Yingluck Shinawatra administration in 2014. The coup drew criticism from the US but China was more understanding.
In addition to plans to buy tanks and submarines from China, the government proposed the maintenance facility as a joint military development. The proposal was supported by Chinese Defence Minister Chang Wanquan.
A joint panel has been set up to oversee the plan.
It aims to provide a maintenance depot for Chinese weapons sold to Thailand as well as build spare parts for armoured vehicles.
Authorities also want the centre to produce drones and marine aircraft.
In the long term, it will play a major role in passing on knowledge and the latest technology associated with Chinese armaments used in Thailand and Southeast Asia to Thai military personnel.
Potential sites for the facility include the Army Ordnance Department in Nakhon Ratchasima, as well as other sites in Chon Buri and Nakhon Sawan.
During Monday's meeting, Gen Prawit also touched on a range of security issues from weapons acquisition to the government's efforts to forge national reconciliation.
It is true the government is considering seeking military deals with China, but this does not mean it favours certain countries, Maj Gen Kongcheep quoted Gen Prawit as saying.
Officials base their decisions on needs and what is appropriate, Maj Gen Kongcheep said.
Thailand needs "strategic weapons", which are also being used by neighbouring countries to protect maritime interests and provide "military muscle to back up negotiations", he quoted Gen Prawit as saying during the meeting.
Gen Prawit also said the government will press ahead with efforts to heal 10 years of social divisions between pro- and anti-Thaksin groups, which were the precursor to the 2014 coup.
National reconciliation will pave the way for national reform under the government's 20-year national strategy, according to Gen Prawit.
Meanwhile, Gen Prawit played down criticism that five armed force leaders will sit on a committee overseeing national strategy. "I don't see any problem," he said, saying it would provide another channel to encourage talks between military and civilians to reach a better understanding of each other's positions on various issues.