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US seeks to build Thai military service depot

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BANGKOK (Bangkok Post) – The United States Department of Defence wants to open a military arms maintenance centre in Thailand to supply and fix US armaments purchased by the Thai military, a Thai defence ministry source says.

Although the US has not specified the centre’s location, the source revealed the matter was discussed in the latest defence strategic talks between the countries. Held at the Pentagon in Washington, DC, in late December, the meeting was attended by defence ministry permanent secretary Gen Theppong Thippayachan and chaired by top Pentagon adviser for Asian and Pacific security affairs, David Helvey.

The US side issued a brief press release on the meeting, which gave little away. The annual talks were halted by the US after 2013, part of Washington’s show of displeasure with the 2014 coup. “The Defence Strategic Talks were a culmination of a year of senior-level defence engagement between the United States and our oldest ally in Asia,” the press release stated.

The three-paragraph release concluded with a general statement: “Acting Assistant Secretary Helvey and General Theppong reaffirmed their commitment to strengthen the 184-year-old US-Thai alliance, and to hold the 5th Defence Strategic Talks next year in Thailand.”

According to the ministry source, the US move came after China, Russia and Ukraine had also expressed an interest in doing the same.“Maintenance centres in Thailand would be considered advantageous for each of these countries, especially during negotiations regarding arms purchases between the respective parties,” the source said. “The US has expressed concerns over the closer relationship between Thailand and China under the National Council for Peace and Order.”

Defence spokesman Kongcheep Tantrawanit said earlier that Thailand’s relations with other countries are in an overall positive state.

“Concerning our talks with other countries, we have not yet been able to strike firm agreements with Russia,” Lt Gen Kongcheep said.

“Ukraine has also expressed interest, but they are not ready to negotiate at the moment, due to their domestic situation.”

As of last October, the Royal Thai Army had 300 US-made battle tanks, 100 Stingray light tanks and 100 Scorpion tanks. It acquired 20 tanks from Ukraine four years ago.

Meanwhile, Lt Gen Kongcheep earlier said a cooperation accord between Thailand’s and China’s defence ministries was agreed upon in September. It will see an arms maintenance centre constructed in Khon Kaen and a warehouse built to store parts in Nakhon Ratchasima. The projects are set for completion by 2019. Maintenance of 80 of the army’s Chinese-manufactured T-85 tanks will also be carried out at the centre as part of the agreement, Lt Gen Kongcheep said.

He added more arms maintenance centres could also be built from 2022 to 2026, where technology and other know-how will later be transferred from the Chinese army in 2027, as per the agreement.

Lt Gen Kongcheep said private companies may be allowed to invest in the future. He said any investment concerning the agreement between the Thai and Chinese armed forces must still observe the Foreign Business Act (1999).

At least 51 percent of a maintenance or manufacturing centres’ shares will have to be owned by the Defence Technology Institute, while China may own up to 49 percent, he added. He said investment from China may come in the form of state-owned China North Industries Corporation. The company currently produces munitions, firearms, combat vehicles and explosives.

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