D&S 2017: China boosts arms sales to Thailand
In the past two years China has achieved a surprising degree of weapon sales to Thailand. It reflects a closer relationship between the two countries after arms sales from the US decreased due to political issues relating to Thailand’s military rule.
In 2014 the so-called National Council for Peace and Order took control of Thailand after a military coup d’état. As the relationship between Thailand and the US declined, China seized the opportunity to strengthen its relationship with Bangkok.
Gen Prawit Wongsuwan, the kingdom’s deputy prime minister and defence minister, has often visited China along with his senior military commanders to meet with senior People’s Liberation Army figures.
In a significant move, in April the Royal Thai Navy (RTN) ordered a Yuan-class S26T submarine from China for $375 million, and it plans to order two more submarines in the near future.
The Royal Thai Air Force ordered KS-1C surface-to-air missiles too, these being commissioned in 2016.
Chinese arms sales to Thailand are still being fast-tracked, with many interesting offers on the table such as technology transfer and joint military production facilities to repair and maintain Chinese weapon systems in Thailand.
However, the biggest attraction of Chinese weapons is lower prices compared to those sourced from other countries. While the Thai defence budget remains limited, Chinese arms sales therefore offer the most promise.
After the Vietnam War, Sino-Thai relations drew closer when the US withdrew from Southeast Asia and cancelled military aid to Thailand.
A huge arms deal occurred in 1987 with friendship prices for items such as Type 69-II tanks, Type 85 APCs, 130mm Type 59-1 howitzers, 130mm Type 82 MLRS, 57mm Type 59 antiaircraft guns and HN-5A missiles.
The RTN also ordered six frigates from China and, in 2002, it ordered two more Pattani-class offshore patrol vessels.
In 2013 the RTA ordered two DTI-1 MLRS units with associated technology transfer. Two years later, Thailand unveiled its first guided DTI-1G MLRS.