Thai Navy’s Submarine Acquisition Stuck in Limbo

Thai Navy’s Submarine Acquisition Stuck in Limbo

With COVID-19 spiraling out of control in Thailand, the $683 million purchase has again drawn criticism.

Last year, the Thai government forced the Royal Thai Navy (RTN) to postpone the purchase of two Yuan-class S26T submarines from China amid fierce public backlash, parliamentary opposition, and the fiscal constraints imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic. This year, history has repeated itself as Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha has ordered the RTN to halt the purchase once again.

Those in the RTN worry that years of postponement will harm Thailand’s credibility and possibly spark China’s anger, but Prayut had every reason to issue the postponement order. The new COVID-19 surge, beginning in April of this year, has spiraled out of control, with daily infections above the 10,000 mark. On July 22, the country marked a daily record of 13,655 cases. Bangkok and other designated red zones have now gone into lockdown, and authorities have noted that a full lockdown – the so-called “Wuhan model,” which would prevent people from leaving their homes – may kick in. The European Union has already removed Thailand from its safe travel list, dealing a a big blow to the “Phuket Sandbox” scheme that seeks to reboot the country’s tourism industry.