EU embargo behind China’s failure to meet Thailand’s submarine order
A 1989 European Union (EU) arms embargo imposed on China is behind Germany’s refusal to supply engines to be fitted in a submarine built in China for the Royal Thai Navy (RTN), an American media outlet reported recently.
This embargo now makes it unlikely for the submarine to arrive in Thailand next year as planned earlier, Voice of America (VOA) reported on Thursday, citing Rear Admiral Apichai Sompolgrunk, director-general of the RTN’s acquisitions management office.
“The process of building the submarine is stuck because the engine is not concluded yet. Finish the [engine] process, and the building will start again,” he was quoted as saying.
In its 13.2-billion-baht purchase deal signed in 2017 with China’s state-owned China Shipbuilding & Offshore International Co (CSOC) for the Yuan-class S26T submarine, the Thai Navy specified three MTU396 diesel engines from Germany’s Motor and Turbine Union company to run the submarine’s electric generator set.
However, the German government decided to prohibit the export of the engines to China because of their use for military purposes.
“China did not coordinate with Germany before signing the Thai-China contract, offering German MTU engines as part of their product,” Germany’s defence attaché to Thailand Philipp Doert said recently.
Germany is bound by an EU arms embargo imposed on China in 1989 after the Tiananmen Square massacre, VOA reported.
However, Germany and other EU countries have bypassed the embargo for decades by supplying China’s military with engines and other equipment, the report said, citing Jon Grevatt, an analyst covering the Asia-Pacific region for Janes defence industry publications.
Those countries exported items with the potential for both military and civilian applications, so-called dual-use items not explicitly excluded by the EU embargo, as commercial exports, even when destined for military hardware, Grevatt said.
However, he added, China’s sale of the Yuan-class submarine to Thailand, made the ruse harder to pull off.
“If this submarine wasn’t being exported to Thailand, no one would know about it and therefore it would go ahead,” he was quoted as saying.
“But the fact that it is being exported, it’s in the news and is cause for the German government to say, oh, no, no, no, we’re not allowing that. You can’t deny that the system is a defence system,” the analyst added.
MTU has fitted Chinese destroyers and submarines with over 100 of its engines from 1993 through 2020, according to Sweden’s Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, which tracks arms transfers around the globe.
Meanwhile, CSOC has offered to build another engine for the submarine, but the Thai Navy was not yet convinced the proposed replacement would do the job, RTN’s Apichai said.
“This engine is not well proven yet, so the Royal Thai Navy is still waiting for the answer from the shipyard [CSOC] to ensure that this engine is as good as the MTU,” he was quoted as saying.