Sutin eyes cheaper Chinese ship
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Sutin eyes cheaper Chinese ship

Navy to talk with China over sub swap

Defence Minister Sutin Klungsang
Defence Minister Sutin Klungsang

Defence Minister Sutin Klungsang said he would assign the navy to initiate negotiations with China aimed at lowering the price of a frigate in light of the government's decision to procure such a vessel instead of a submarine.

A navy delegation is expected to travel to China next week to hold talks before an agreement between the two sides expires next month, he said, noting that it remains to be seen if China is ready to engage in such discussions.

Mr Sutin, who met with the navy on Tuesday afternoon to prepare information for the planned dialogue, gave assurances the government would not put the country at a disadvantage and would try to negotiate the best deal.

According to the defence minister, the talks involve revising their initial agreement rather than amending the contract, meaning the dialogue is a matter between the navy and the Chinese company.

The government's decision to procure a Chinese-made frigate to replace a submarine the navy had ordered in 2017 was announced last week after it was found the submarine could be fitted with a German-made engine as Thailand had requested.

The decision to switch to a frigate instead has caused a stir because it is estimated to cost about 17 billion baht, several billion more than the submarine the navy has ordered. Critics question why Thailand has to pay more when China is unable to honour its contractual obligations.

Stressing that it was impossible for China to fit the submarine with the German-made engine, Mr Sutin said the Chinese frigate is estimated to cost about 14 billion baht, and the initial price tag of 17 billion baht is based on the price of a frigate made in Europe.

Asked if the navy was satisfied with the change because preparations had already been made for the submarine, he said the frigate arrangement was one of two proposals the navy had lined up in case the submarine project was unable to proceed.

He said the navy came armed with the two proposals when it was asked to consider alternatives -- one was to buy a frigate, and the other was to purchase an offshore patrol vessel (OPV). The government chose the frigate, he added.

Asked about whether a refund should be sought, he said the government would negotiate on the submarine-to-frigate swap first before considering other arrangements.

He also said there were other dimensions to demanding a refund that could affect cooperation in other fields.

Meanwhile, Move Forward Party list-MP Wiroj Lakkhanaadisorn posted on his Facebook account on Tuesday that the best option would be to demand a refund of 7 billion baht paid for the submarine scheme and a fine from China for failing to honour the contract.

Mr Wiroj, who chairs the House committee on military affairs, said the frigate or OPV was a good alternative, but the government would have to consider the price, maintenance costs, spare parts and other arrangements.

He said the House committee invited the navy to answer questions about the submarine procurement project tomorrow to keep the public informed.

Former election commissioner Somchai Srisutthiyakorn posted details of the budget spent by the navy on the submarine procurement scheme on his Facebook account on Tuesday.

He said the navy spent 8.7 billion baht on 11 items related to this procurement scheme, and those expenses excluded a more than 7-billion-baht payment made to China.

The spending included navigation charts and hydrographic information for submarine navigation, a torpedo and mine storage facility, a submarine support vessel, and a submarine command and control system.

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