Submarine buy wins 'secret' nod
Kongcheep says press didn't have to be told
The military-led cabinet has secretly approved the controversial procurement of a Chinese submarine costing 13.5 billion baht.
Defence Ministry spokesman Kongcheep Tantravanich admitted Monday the cabinet had endorsed the submarine procurement proposed by the Royal Thai Navy on April 18, a day after the Songkran holidays ended, without holding a news conference.
"We had no intention of concealing the issue but not all issues approved by the cabinet have to be conveyed to the press," Maj Gen Kongcheep said.
He said the submarine purchase plan was not new. The matter had been made public earlier.
In addition, he said, 60 years ago, Thailand had submarines so now the country is simply going to have them again.
The navy has been allowed by the cabinet to initially procure one Yuan Class S26T submarine from China costing 13.5 billion baht with its own budget, gradually paying for it between 2017 and 2023, according to Maj Gen Kongcheep.
In the full plan, the navy will buy three Yuan Class submarine costing a total of 36 billion baht over 11 years.
Navy chief, Adm Na Areenich, will visit China to sign the contract for the submarine procurement in May.
Early in the day, Deputy Prime Minister and Defence Minister Prawit Wongsuwon told the Defence Council that military hardware and equipment to protect the country's maritime interests were necessary and they were important for Thailand's military strategy. Every purchase of equipment would be transparent, he added.
"Without security and peace and order, the country cannot move forward. As a result, public awareness and participation in security issues is needed," Gen Prawit was quoted as saying.
Gen Prawit also ordered security agencies to closely monitor the tense situation on the Korean Peninsula which might affect Thailand if war erupts.
Previously, it had been expected that the proposal to purchase the submarine would be sent for cabinet approval today when Gen Prawit is due to chair the cabinet meeting, instead of Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha who is on a two-day visit to Bahrain.
The planned procurement of submarines has come amid criticism and questions.
Several reasons have been voiced in opposition to the procurement including the appropriateness of spending such a huge amount of money to buy submarines when the economy is in the doldrums, the suitability of using submarines in the Gulf of Thailand which is considered too shallow, and the cost and quality of the Chinese submarines.
Critics say such a massive amount of money should be used for projects with real public benefits.
The navy and defence minister defended their decision, saying the budget for the submarine purchase was not additional money sought from the government.
They said the country needs such military hardware to protect its maritime territorial interests due to the volatility of the global security situation and to balance military strength in the region.
According to regional security sources, Malaysia has two submarines, while Singapore has four and is about to purchase two more.
Vietnam has six and Indonesia is in the process of replacing two old German-made submarines with three new ones from South Korea.
In terms of price, Gen Prayut earlier insisted the three Chinese submarines "are cheap". He likened the cost to "buying two, getting one free" when compared to prices of submarines from European producers.
The navy has made repeated efforts to procure submarines for the past several years. In 2011, it wanted to buy six German-made second-hand submarines at a cost of 7.7 billion baht, but the plan was shot down by the Yingluck Shinawatra government.