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China sells submarines to Thailand The problem is that there is no engine

Singapore — The submarines China is building for Thailand lack something called an engine.

According to a Thai Navy spokesman, the agreement requires China to equip submarines with German MTU Friedrichshafen GmbH diesel engines, but Germany has banned engine exports to China. Authorities that strictly apply the European Union’s arms embargo, which was imposed after China in 1989, used deadly force against protesters at the Tiannanmen Square in Beijing.

This creates a confusing situation for China. The $ 410 million deal was one of two considered milestones in China’s defense export ambitions and symbolized the close relationship between US allies Beijing and Thailand. .. Eight submarines to Pakistan did not reveal whether the deal required a German engine, but Germany did not respond to a request for comment on this issue.

However, regarding the Thai agreement, Thailand’s German military attaché Philip Dart said in a Bangkok post last month that diesel engine exports were rejected because they were for items in China’s military or defense industry. Germany said before signing a contract to provide an MTU engine that China had not negotiated.

China’s Foreign Ministry told The Wall Street Journal that the embargo “has long been inconsistent with the current international situation, the development of relations between China and the EU, and the comprehensive strategic partnership between China and the EU.” Make the right decision as soon as possible. “

Some European governments called for the abolition of China’s arms embargo in 2005, arguing that such measures would upset the balance of relations between China and Taiwan, but the embargo did. It has never functioned as a total embargo. Due to different interpretations of EU countries, there is room to continue certain exports. For example, items used for both civilian and military use may be permitted.

After public protests against costs, including this Bangkok protest in September 2020, the initial plans to purchase three submarines have been reduced.


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Andre Marelva / Zuma Press

For some time, German-made diesel engines have fallen into that category, said Simon Wesemann, principal researcher at the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute’s arms transfer program. The institute estimates that 56 MTU diesel engines have been relocated to China since 1989. For song-class attack submarines. The database also shows that at least 26 MTU engines were used on Chinese destroyers.

However, the needle of the submarine moved. Last year, MTU said it had delivered engines for Song-class submarines in the past, in response to a report by the German Television Broadcasting Federation and the newspaper Welt am Sonntag. However, the company said in a statement that it had shared with the journal that the rules had changed since then.

“We have finally stopped supplying engines to Chinese submarines,” he said.

The MTU did not respond to requests for comment on when regulatory changes occurred and refused to comment on the Thai case. The German Ministry of Foreign Affairs did not respond to requests for comment on the changes.

The S26T submarine for Thailand is an export type of the former class submarine of the Chinese Navy, which is the successor to the Song class submarine, and as of December 2020, China did not supply the former class submarine to any country. The US Department of Defense 2021 report on military development, including China.

Navy spokesman Deputy Admiral Pokron Montatofalin said China needs to modify its terms and conditions in a way that does not penalize the Royal Thai Navy because it cannot comply with Thailand’s engine requirements. Other engines haven’t reached an agreement, but he said the submarine could be delayed in delivery as a result.

Defense contract negotiations are rarely public, but after the Bangkok Post announced last month that Germany’s opposition was that China would use them on submarines and sell them to a third country, in this case Thailand. , Engine problems surfaced. German defense attaché Doort replied the next day that the problem was not the final destination of the engine, but the first to China’s defense industry.

This deal was already at the center of Thailand’s national controversy. Authorities initially planned to buy three submarines for nearly $ 1.1 billion, but the pandemic devastated the economy and postponed the purchase in response to public protests against the costs.

According to experts, countries buying sophisticated weapons may think twice about buying from China if their orders include EU components, given the potential for delays and cost overruns.

“Customers may need to consider these risks when assessing bids in China,” said Corinkou, a research fellow at the S. Rajaratnam Graduate School of International Studies in Singapore. .. Beijing could lose potential arms sales and even the prospect of expanding market outreach to customers outside the reach of traditional customers. “

Write to Niharika Mandhana (niharika.mandhana@wsj.com)

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