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Monika Chansoria

Dr. Monika Chansoria is a Senior Fellow at the Centre for Land Warfare Studies, New Delhi.

China eyes Thai arms deal

Beijing is frantically searching for partnerships with Myanmar, Thailand, Laos, etc.

hina's position and success as a key weapons exporter remains formidable in the global arms market. Taking the case of Southeast Asia per se, the emergence and more importantly, availability, of China as a major arms producer and supplier draws a direct link to the overall arms acquisition decision-making within the region and casts a lasting impact upon the overall regional military balance as a consequence.

The evolving setting in Southeast Asia based on this factor could be termed as being capricious, since it is capable of setting off a regional arms race. China finds in Thailand a lush opportunity for expanding its arms exports and state-owned Poly Technologies and China Precision Machinery Import & Export Corporation (CPMIEC) are currently engaged in discussions with Thai defence authorities over potential collaboration on several land- and sea-based military systems.

A probable advanced weapons export deal is being actively negotiated with Beijing briskly pushing for the reported sale of China's medium- to long-range two-stage missile with a range of about 130 miles — HQ-9 surface-to-air missile system (known as the FD-2000 in its export configuration) manufactured by state-owned CPMIEC to the Thai military. In addition, systems including the FL-3000N ship-based surface-to-air missile system and the FK-1000 mobile air defence system, both marketed by CPMIEC are also being discussed.

Besides, Thai military authorities have apparently shown a keen interest in the possibility of procuring Chinese Poly Technologies' Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected Vehicle, CS-VP3, which entered production in 2012. It is being reported that in case the CS-VP3 deal is clinched, China might just end up offering co-production of the CS-VP3 to their Thai counterparts. In fact, the prospect of China transferring full technologies to Thailand to help with local production cannot be annulled entirely.

The likely sealing of the latest arms deal between Beijing and Bangkok is happening at an interesting time with China appearing fraught in search of strategic partners in Southeast Asia given that its equation with both Vietnam and the Philippines seem to be taking a turn for the worse. The Chinese leadership is frantically searching for partnerships with Myanmar, Thailand, Laos, Indonesia and Cambodia in Southeast Asia, which could cement Chinese assertion in regional affairs. While Thailand continues to nurture long-standing military ties with the United States, it appears that the Thai government wants to strike a balance by encouraging its association with China as well since Thailand's dependence on China economically is too strong to be overlooked.

Surely, the theme of Commander of the Chinese People's Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF), Ma Xiaotian's meeting with his visiting Thai counterpart, Prajin Jantong focused on strengthening the bilateral comprehensive strategic cooperative partnership between the two countries involving pragmatic exchanges. In addition, It needs to be underscored that Thailand, in fact, has been a very prominent recipient of Chinese weapon systems all through the decade of the 1980s and 1990s. During the 1980s, China supplied Thailand with the Hong Ying-5/5A portable surface-to-air missile (SAM), HQ-2B SAM, T-59 main battle tank, T-59-1 130mm towed gun,T-81 122mm multiple rocket launcher (MRL), T-85 130mm MRL, Type 81 122mm MRL and Type 83 130mm MRL.

Subsequently, in the 1990s, major Chinese weapon exports to Thailand included the C-801 ship-to-ship missile, Jianghu-class frigate, Naresuan-class frigate, Similan-class support ship, T-311 and T-341 fire control radars and the T-69 main battle tank.

Sino-Thai ties received a much needed boost with the October 2013 visit of Chinese Premier Li Keqiang to Thailand following the visit of Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra to China in 2012. It was during the latter trip that the two sides agreed upgrading bilateral ties to a comprehensive strategic cooperative partnership and also placed added focus on the economic and trade aspects with bilateral trade touching $70 billion — and setting up a target of $100 billion by 2015. China is Thailand's largest trading partner as well as the second largest source of foreign direct investment following Japan.

Although Thailand and China signed the Siam-China Friendship Treaty following World War II and later established formal diplomatic relations in 1975, China's historical literature traces the Sino-Thai equation back to the time of China's Han and Tang dynasties. Towards the end of China's Song dynasty and the beginning of the Yuan dynasty, the Sukhothai Kingdom in northern Thailand sent envoys repeatedly to visit China from 1292-1303.

Growing China-Thai relations in the political, economic and military spheres bring out Southeast Asia's salience in the backdrop of the current strategic readjustments as China attempts to create a fresh status quo in its existing territorial disputes, both on land and at sea. What remains to be seen however, in this context is the future of multilateralism in Southeast Asia.

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