This additional sign of support for the junta is likely to enrage Myanmar citizens, who have protested Beijing’s failure to condemn the military takeover

Myanmar obtained a submarine from China last week at a ceremony in Yangon presided over by coup leader Senior General Min Aung Hlaing.

The event was set up to coincide with the Myanmar Navy’s 74th founding anniversary, reports The Irrawaddy.

The Ming-class Type 035 diesel-electric submarine, named Min Ye Kyaw Htin, is intended to serve a dual function – as a training vessel and as a stopgap attack submarine.

China is one of the major suppliers of military hardware to Myanmar’s armed forces, including naval ships and jet fighters. Myanmar has also purchased advanced jet fighters from Pakistan and Russia.

This additional sign of China’s support for the junta is likely to enrage Myanmar citizens, who have protested Beijing’s failure to censure the military takeover on February 1.

Massive anti-China demonstrations broke out in Yangon and elsewhere following the coup, and some 13 or 14 Chinese-backed factories in Myanmar’s commercial hub were damaged or targeted in arson attacks.

Pro-democracy demonstrators have also urged the general public to oppose all Chinese projects and boycott products made in its northern neighbour.

Myanmar started assessing the possibility of buying a submarine in 2005. Two years later it sent naval officers to nations friendly to the then-ruling regime, including India, for training.

In 2019, Myanmar procured a second-hand submarine from India, which is now in operation. The Soviet-manufactured Kilo-class submarine, renamed Min Ye Thein Kha Thu in Myanmar, had been refurbished by Hindustan Shipyard, the Indian state-run defence shipbuilder. With a top speed of 18 knots and a maximum operating depth of 300 metres, the vessel was Myanmar’s first submarine.

The purchase did not go unnoticed in China. In October 2020, Global Times, a Chinese government mouthpiece, took a dig at both Myanmar and India over the issue.

In an article, headlined “Hyping China influence in India – Myanmar submarine deal attempts to provoke: experts”, it opined: “India wants to get rid of a retired and outdated submarine, and Myanmar needs one to train its soldiers.”

The piece went on to cite Chinese analysts’ doubts over the functionality of the vessel, which India maintained would serve Myanmar till at least 2030 after refitting.

The Global Times said the submarine “served in [the] Indian army for more than 30 years, entering the end of a submarine’s life — and the refitting only gave it refurbishment, but did not upgrade its system and facilities.”

As stated by military personnel who spoke to The Irrawaddy last year, cost was always a major issue. Wary of making an inappropriate purchase, Myanmar’s generals thoroughly studied the submarines on offer from various countries.

In the late 2000s, Myanmar short-listed four “regime-friendly” countries – Russia, China, India and North Korea – and sent delegations to study the possibility of procuring a discounted — or as the Global Times put it, “retired and outdated” — submarine.

The deal to purchase the Ming-class submarine was reached in secret with Beijing over the past year.

In the past, Myanmar is believed to have baulked at a Chinese condition that its technicians be allowed to maintain any vessels it provides. It is unclear whether the condition was attached this time around.

The Myanmar Navy has plans to expand its fleet of both submarines and surface vessels. It now has the ability to build frigates and has started doing so.

Having purchased two submarines, Myanmar’s military is now in negotiations with Russia to acquire one of its Project 636 Improved Kilo submarines, according to various sources.

During last week’s commissioning ceremony, Major Yan Naing Tun, commanding officer of the Min Ye Kyaw Htin, said to junta media Myawady that the inclusion of the new vessel would allow the Myanmar Navy to engage in “three-dimensional warfare”.

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