BANGKOK (Reuters) - Thailand will buy 34 armoured personnel carriers from China worth 2.3 billion baht ($68 million), the Southeast Asian nation’s army chief said on Wednesday, the latest sign of closer military relations between the two nations.
The purchase is the latest defence deal between Bangkok and Beijing amid warming ties since Thailand’s military coup in 2014, when relations cooled with the United States, historically the country’s major supplier of Western weapons.
“Buying from the West is a little hard … buying from China is better value for money,” General Chalermchai Sitthisart told reporters, announcing that Thailand’s cabinet had approved the purchase of the VN-1 carriers.
The choice of China was not a consequence of closer relations between the two countries, however, but the most cost-effective option, he added.
“The most important is the suitability for the needs of Thailand and the price,” Chalermchai said, adding that Russia and Ukraine had also been in the running to supply the vehicles.
In April, Thailand approved the first of three planned submarine purchases from China in a deal worth a total of more than $1 billion.
The Thai navy defended the decision following a barrage of public criticism over questions such as the suitability of the submarines and the need to buy the costly craft.
Thailand and China have also agreed to cooperate on building an 873-km (542-mile) railway project, as part of Beijing’s regional infrastructure drive.
Delays and talks over loan terms and land development rights have held up the project, however, prompting Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha to say on Tuesday that he would make use of Article 44, a special security measure, to allow work to begin.
Reporting by Amy Sawitta Lefevre and Panarat Thepgumpanat; Writing by Amy Sawitta Lefevre; Editing by Clarence Fernandez