Sutin to consult PM on long-delayed submarine project next week

TUESDAY, JULY 09, 2024

Defence minister sidesteps question on pressure from China, saying it only wants the deal to be finalised

Defence Minister Sutin Klungsang said on Tuesday that he will meet Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin next week to discuss whether the submarine procurement project should go ahead.

Sutin said if Srettha gives it the go-ahead, then he will propose it to the Cabinet for a final approval as soon as possible, as China is waiting eagerly to close the deal.

The defence minister said he was just waiting for China to clarify one issue, and as soon as he has a response, he will meet Srettha to seek his endorsement.

“Once China answers this key question, I will compile all the information for the prime minister to consider,” he said.

“If the PM says the project can go ahead, then we’ll go ahead. But if he wants more information, then we’ll wait and see.”

Sutin, however, sidestepped a question on whether China was pressuring Thailand to close the deal as soon as possible.

“They want it to be concluded because they have invested a lot of time and want to see it done. If you ask me whether they are stepping up the pressure, then I will say they are seeking an understanding,” Sutin said.

Initially, the Royal Thai Navy (RTN) wanted to purchase three S26T Yuan-class submarines from China for about US$1.06 billion (38.61 billion baht). However, due to budget constraints, Thailand reduced its order to just one S26T for 13.5 billion baht.

In the initial contract signed in May 2017, the submarine was to have been mounted with a German-made MTU-396 diesel engine.

However, the submarine maker China Shipbuilding & Offshore International Co (CSOC) later found out that it could not secure the German engine for the submarine and instead offered to fit it with a China-made CHD620 engine instead.

Last year, the RTN shelved the submarine purchase and opted for a Chinese frigate instead. However, after talks with China in May, it backtracked and decided to go for the submarine again.

As for amending the contract to accommodate the change in engine, Sutin said he had inquired with the Council of State and it has provided an answer in principle. The council acts as the government’s legal adviser.

Sutin said the Defence Ministry was now using the council’s reply for amending the contract, which will be sent to the Council of State for a review later.

He added that he inquired with the council about the principles of changing the contract during a meeting with representatives from the Navy, the Office of the Attorney-General and the council about three months ago.

“In principle, the amended contract will have to win a final approval from the Cabinet. But before sending it to the Cabinet, the Defence Ministry will have to ensure we have all the information at hand for the Cabinet to deliberate,” Sutin said.

He added that the contract will be amended on two key points – extending the contract’s term and changing the engine type.

Sutin to consult PM on long-delayed submarine project next week

Separately, Pakorn Nilprapunt, the Council of State’s secretary-general, said in principle, the submarine procurement contract can be amended like other procurement contracts.

So far, he said, the Navy has not submitted the amended contract for the council to scrutinise.