The Royal Thai Navy’s public relations Facebook page published the article “Nowhere to be seen but present everywhere” by Admiral Panu Punyavirocha. In the article, Admiral Panu argued that the submarine purchase is necessary to defend the Gulf of Thailand.
To back up this claim, he cited three historical incidents.
During the reign of King Narai the Great, in 1664, Dutch warships blockaded the Gulf. During the reign of King Rama 5, in 1893, French warships blockaded the Gulf. During World War 2, an American submarine sunk a Thai oil tanker in the Gulf.
Perhaps the Admiral meant to argue that if the Kingdom of Ayutthaya and the Kingdom of Rattanakosin had invested in the navy, they would have defeated both the Dutch and the French or deterred the blockades.
Perhaps the Admiral meant to argue that if we had Chinese submarines back then, not only would we have defeated the two European powers, we might have conquered the world. After all, the Thai navy would be the only one employing submarine technology at the time.
Perhaps the Admiral meant to argue that if we had Chinese submarines during World War 2, the Americans wouldn’t have been able to sink our oil tanker.
But in fact, Thailand had four Japanese submarines.
These were Matchanu-class submarines, none of which saw combat during World War 2.
On 8 December 1941, the Imperial Japanese forces invaded Thailand. We fought and surrendered in less than one day, after which we joined the Axis Powers. The submarines did not save us.
However, when the Allies bombed Bangkok’s Samsen and Wat Liab Power Plants on 14 April 1945, two submarines were used as power generators.
Thailand also has an aircraft carrier; the HTMS Chakri Naruebet paid for in 1993 at 286 million US dollars, built by a Spanish company. The carrier has not seen combat either but has served in many disaster reliefs, including the 2004 Tsunami.
In 2017, Thailand agreed to buy three Chinese submarines.
Bear in mind, the deal was conveniently made during the military dictatorship of General Prayut Chan-o-cha, without parliament oversight and checks and balances.
The first submarine is a done deal, expect delivery in 2023. In August, a parliamentary sub-committee approved two more subs, at 723.9 million US dollars.
Amidst public outcry, the government has decided to take a step back by delaying the purchase for another year. The reason cited by both the navy and General Prayut is that the navy is “making a sacrifice” for the country by making the delay.
But how can it be a sacrifice when it’s taxpayers’ money? Not only did they skip history class, but they also missed democracy lessons.
The navy has also filed a defamation lawsuit against Pheu Thai MP Yuttapong Charasathien for stating in an interview that the submarine deal is not government-to-government but between navy chief Admiral Luechai Ruddit and a Chinese company. The MP said the former has no legal authority to spend taxpayer money in an international trade deal, while the latter is not the Chinese government.