The Korea Herald


[Herald Interview] Yoon's visit to Poland to set new milestone in bilateral ties

Poland considers increasing naval combat capabilities, says top envoy in Seoul

By Shin Ji-hye

Published : July 12, 2023 - 11:42

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Polish Ambassador to Korea Piotr Ostaszewski speaks with The Korea Herald in Seoul. (Park Hae-mook) Polish Ambassador to Korea Piotr Ostaszewski speaks with The Korea Herald in Seoul. (Park Hae-mook)

President Yoon Suk Yeol's visit to Poland, the first by a South Korean leader in 14 years, is expected to strengthen further the strategic partnership between the two nations, which has seen significant progress on the back of recent arms deals amounting to multiple billions of dollars, according to the European country's top envoy in Seoul.

In an interview with The Korea Herald conducted in prior to Yoon's visit to Poland on Wednesday, Polish Ambassador to Korea Piotr Ostaszewski said the recent defense cooperation has been a success, allowing the country to build up its defense posture to deter intensifying military tension in the region.

“The war in Ukraine only confirmed our earlier predictions that we must create a strong army that will be able to deter potential enemies,” he said. “Therefore, looking for the best weapons for our troops, which would be quickly available, we started talks with Korea, which, as you can see, ended in full success.”

Korean defense companies racked up exports to Poland last year, with transactions amounting to 17 trillion won ($13.1 billion). These exports included sophisticated weaponry such as Chunmoo rocket launchers, K2 tanks, K9 self-propelled howitzers and FA-50 fighter aircraft.

Attention is being paid to whether Yoon's visit would give momentum to the second round of export negotiations for domestic defense companies with Poland. Yoon is set to discuss ways to bolster bilateral ties in the economy, defense cooperation and reconstruction of Ukraine with his Polish counterpart, President Andrzej Duda, on Thursday.

Top executives of Korean defense companies, such as Hanwha, Korea Aerospace Industries and Hyundai Rotem, were to accompany him as part of a business delegation.

“Our purchases of Korean armaments are intended to complement our military capabilities by implementing state-of-the-art military technology,” the ambassador said. “Polish and Korean companies maintain mutual relations and dialogue aimed at ensuring the possibility of producing Korean equipment in Poland.”

The Polish military authorities have announced plans to kick off the Orka program for the procurement of naval submarines later this year. Unveiled in May, the program aims to bolster the Polish navy's defensive capabilities with submarines that have the capacity to deploy maneuvering missiles. These projectiles would be able to strike targets located deep within an aggressor's territory.

In anticipation of Poland's announced Orka program, South Korea is positioning itself as a potential supplier. The country foresees the possibility of exporting 3,000-ton submarines, identical in specifications to those currently in use by the Korean Navy, to meet Poland's naval expansion needs.

“We are considering increasing the combat capabilities of our navy in Poland,” he said. “In order to start acquisition procedures, Polish specialists must define the operational requirements for these submarines.” But Ostaszewski added it is too early to say which of the possible offers would be the best for the Polish navy.

The potential export deal with Poland, however, is not without challenges for South Korea.

It is reported that the first contract was facilitated by loans and guarantees from the Export-Import Bank of Korea and the Korea Trade Insurance Corporation, reaching 12 trillion won. Poland is reportedly requesting significant financial support for a potential second contract.

Concerns in South Korea are that the credit and guarantee limits of the country's export financing institutions may already be exhausted. Such a situation could potentially pose difficulties for further financial support in the negotiations for the second contract.

“The discussion between financial institutions is ongoing and from this perspective, we should not interfere in that process with any speculations,” the ambassador said, adding he is “convinced about the positive results of it as our governments broadly confirm their willingness for cooperation.”

He said that regardless of the length of the conflict in Ukraine, the two nations’ mutual relations will “grow stronger” in the future for the benefit of both countries. “I believe that there are still many areas of potential cooperation not only in the military domain, but in also in others, such as energy or innovation,” he said.

Ostaszewski, who obtained both his master's degree and Ph.D. in history from the University of Warsaw, came to Korea as Poland's ambassador in 2017. Seoul is his first mission as a diplomat. Prior to his diplomatic service, he served as a visiting professor at Kyungpook National University in South Korea and lectured at the Warsaw School of Economics back in Poland.