by Jarosław Szczepankiewicz / Ambassador of the Republic of Poland to the Philippines
(Exclusive to ENVOYS&EXPATS)
I AM pleased to share with the BusinessMirror’s ENVOYS&EXPATS my thoughts on crucial international issues while inside the newly built modern office of the Embassy of the Republic of Poland in Manila. For the first time in history, Poland has fully established the seat of a diplomatic mission in Manila.
(I may confirm that the offices are functional, modern and spacious. The interior design follows the traditional Polish artistic movement called “Unism,” which adds an exotic and aesthetic flavor to the surroundings.)
Let us start with the worrying situation in the South China Sea/West Philippine Sea. The People’s Republic of China (PROC) seized the moment to increase its influence by means that are not in-line with rules based on international order. It continues to pursue maritime expansionism in the disputed waters by establishing administrative districts there, escalating confrontations with the Philippines, Japan and Malaysia, then blocking Vietnamese fishing rights, and even creating tension in its shared land border with India.
The only way to deal with China is a strong and unified pressure from the international community. The Philippines needs strong alliances with the United States as well. Suspending the termination of the Visiting Forces Agreement on June 1, “in the light of political and other developments in the region,” is a very positive move. This country shall find the right balance between pragmatic engagement with China and defense of traditional Philippine values: democracy, sovereignty and respect of international law.
The autonomous status of Hong Kong is another point of contention. The China-wide People’s Representatives’ Assembly voted in May 2020 on a resolution to amend the Hong Kong Basic Law in the field of security. The new legislation enables PROC services to operate in the territory of the previously autonomous administrative unit in instances of “betrayal, terrorism, separatism and foreign intervention” which, given free interpretation, in practice, provides these services with the possibility of unlimited surveillance and repression of Hong Kong residents.
The shortening of Hong Kong’s autonomy by more than half the time, which China had committed to comply with in the 1997 Joint China-British Declaration, puts its credibility as a partner of international arrangements under a big question mark. We may expect mass emigration from Hong Kong, relocation of numerous American and European companies to other countries, and the city’s loss of intermediary status in the Western trade and capital exchange with China.
Fortifying the AFP, PAF
THE loss of several Philippine shoals to China, which are now artificial islands, is sufficient justification to improve rapidly the country’s defense capabilities. Despite financial restrictions stemming from the spread of the pandemic, the Philippine Air Force (PAF) is moving forward with the Armed Forces of the Philippines’s modernization program.
THE purchase of 16 S-70i combat-utility helicopters manufactured by the Polish Aviation Works-Mielec (PZL-Mielec) is an excellent example of cooperation between our two countries. By the end of 2020, PZL-Mielec will hand over the first six units of S-70i Black Hawk helicopters to the PAF under a contract signed in 2019.
In addition, a fully armed version of the S-70i matches the needs of the PAF expressed in its program. The commonality between the armed Black Hawk and the already contracted 16 S-70is for the PAF combat-utility helicopter program will further enhance sustained cost-efficiencies between the two fleets. Armed S-70is are already in commission in three countries: the United States, the United Arab Emirates, and Colombia.
Apart from complying with the PAF’s acquisition budget, the Armed Black Hawk S-70i has low flight-hour and sustaining costs for training sessions, spare parts and ground support, as well as high-flight availability. PZL-Mielec can meet the PAF’s schedule with the first Armed Black Hawk delivery in initial operating capability in June 2022, with the remaining aircraft and full operating capability within 2023.
Moreover, the draft of the memorandum of understanding covering the implementing agreement on Defense Cooperation between Poland’s Ministry of National Defense and the Philippines’s Department of National Defense is being finalized and should be available for signing by both parties soon.
IN the new security environment, a strong economic cooperation is essential to overcome the effects of the pandemic. Poland seeks for a more extensive opening of the Philippine market to goods, including agricultural products. The elimination of barriers in trade and wider reciprocal access are for us of key importance.
We support the European Union’s trade negotiations with the Philippines and the regional bloc’s commitment to provide development assistance, continuing cooperation on climate change, sustainable development and global health issues. We will also move forward with connectivity to make our relations global, diversified and adaptable to the new challenges.