The state-run China Shipbuilding Industry Corporation officially introduced its S-26T submarine to the defense ministry of Thailand on Jan. 12 to strengthen the military-to-military relationship between Beijing and Bangkok, according to Duowei News, an outlet operated by overseas Chinese.
After the decommissioning of the Royal Thai Navy’s four Matchanu-class submarines, the nation has not operated submarines for more than 60 years. Now, however, some officials in the country’s military government believe submarines are needed to defend the nation’s freedom of navigation in the Gulf of Thailand. To rebuild its submarine fleet, the government decided to buy two or three submarines in Fiscal year 2016. China is the third nation to demonstrate interest in selling submarines to Thailand, after France and South Korea.
By selling submarines to Thailand, China aims to gain a potential political and defense partner in South China Sea disputes with its neighbors at a time when Vietnam is also purchasing Kilo-class submarines from Russia.
Over the past 20 years, Thailand had signed contracts with Germany and South Korea to buy new submarines and considered buying S-20 submarines from China. These plans all fell through however due to repeated economic and political crises. As tensions escalate between rival claimants in the disputed South China Sea, Thailand has begun to feel that submarines are once again important to defend its national security, even though the country itself does not make territorial claims in the sea.
While the S-20 is the export version of the Type 039A Yuan-class diesel-electric submarine, the full details of the S-26T remain mysterious but its main competitor for the Royal Thai Navy’s contract will be South Korea’s Chang Bogo-class submarine.