Thailand on Monday delayed its plan to buy two submarines from China, Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha said, amid public opposition to the deal.
“The navy, as a party to the negotiations, will ask China if Thailand can delay the purchase until 2021,” Chan-ocha said.
The prime minister said the submarine purchase deal, worth around 22.5 billion baht (723 million dollars), could not be cancelled altogether as it was already part of the military’s plans.
The deal has sparked controversy in Thailand, following allegations by opposition lawmaker Yuttapong Charasathien, that a high-ranking government official pressured a parliamentary committee into approving the purchase.
However, opposition to the deal has also been reflected in the anti-government student-led protests now almost a daily affair.
Protesters are calling for new elections and a re-writing of the constitution written by Chan-ocha’s junta, after he led a military coup in 2014.
According to activists, government’s attempts to buy submarines as the country suffers economic fallout from the coronavirus pandemic, demonstrates a preference for military spending over public interest.
The Thailand Government has already finalised plans for the buying of its first modern submarine from China which was funded in the 2017 budget, and to be delivered by 2023.
Chan-ocha, who is also Thailand’s Defence Minister, said submarines were necessary to protect the country’s maritime borders.
“We have very large ocean areas on both sides of the country. We have to be careful about this,” he said.