Thai junta secures US$58 million for more Chinese tanks

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BANGKOK: Thailand’s government on Tuesday agreed to buy 10 tanks from China for US$58 million in the latest defence spending by a junta with a taste for Chinese hardware.

The military is replacing its US-made M41 rolling stock with Chinese VT-4 tanks, as it continues to upgrade its equipment three years after seizing power from a civilian government.

The Southeast Asian country has already snapped up 28 Chinese tanks and secured around US$380 million for a submarine — with cash being sought for two more.

On Tuesday the cabinet approved the purchase of 10 more VT-4s for around two billion baht ($58 million), Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwan told reporters.

“These are to replace the M41 tanks which we have used since World War II,” he added.

Thailand is facing a decade-long insurgency in its southernmost provinces but rarely deploys tanks there.

Its last international conflict came during border skirmishes with Cambodia in 2011.

The kingdom’s well-oiled military has ousted two elected governments in the last decade.

In parallel the defence budget has nearly tripled to around $6 billion.

Thailand’s generosity to its armed forces has raised eyebrows, especially given the stuttering post-coup economy.

Critics say the military — which boasts one of the highest proportion of generals in the world — has a penchant for non-essential big ticket purchases, including an aircraft carrier which currently has no aircraft.

China has soaked up Thai defence spending.

That has raised questions over the kingdom’s relationship with its oldest ally — the US — whose own policies towards Thailand and the rest of Southeast Asia have been cast into uncertainty by the rise of protectionist President Donald Trump.

Thailand is among 16 countries that the US has a trade deficit with, something Trump’s administration has promised to probe.

Thai junta leader and premier, Prayut Chan-O-Cha, on Tuesday urged his country not to “panic” as the US is yet to threaten action against the countries it has a trade imbalance with.