BANGKOK • Thailand has put on hold the purchase of submarines from China, the Thai defence minister said yesterday, raising questions about its commitment to acquiring its first such vessels.
Defence Minister Prawit Wongsuwan, who is also the Deputy Prime Minister, said earlier this month the navy had approved a 36 billion baht (S$1.4 billion) plan to buy three submarines from China.
General Prawit, known to be a strong backer of the plan to get submarines, told reporters the acquisition was put on hold while the navy reconsidered the role of the vessels and their cost.
"We will wait for now and not introduce it to the Cabinet for approval," he told reporters.
"For now, the navy must inform itself and educate itself on whether the submarines are worth it and how much they will add to the Thai navy," he added.
He said the navy must also inform the public about the issue and provide clear details about its benefits to the armed forces.
Academics and politicians have questioned the government over the plan, saying there is no pressing need for Thailand to have such formidable and expensive craft.
Thailand has been considering getting submarines since the 1990s, with both Germany and South Korea seen as possible suppliers, though deals have not been concluded.
In November, Thailand's navy chief said he had revived plans to procure submarines.
Officials say Thailand's quest for submarines makes sense strategically and could help to ensure freedom of navigation in the Gulf of Thailand if territorial disputes in the energy-rich South China Sea blow up.
Vietnam has taken possession of three Russian-built Kilo-attack submarines and it also has three more on order.
REUTERS, THE NATION/ASIA NEWS NETWORK