On August 1, Denmark will reopen its Embassy in Manila, the Philippines, as part of the largest reform and modernisation of the Danish Foreign Service in many years. The plan to re-establish a diplomatic presence on the ground in the Southeast Asian country has been on the drawing board for a couple of years, but now the timing was right, the current Danish Ambassador to the Philippines, Nicolai Ruge, said to ScandAsia in an interview at the embassy in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
An earlier reform of the Foreign Service led to the former embassy in Manila being closed down back in 2002. But now the decision has been made to reopen the Embassy due to changing circumstances, in particular the potential for growth in bilateral trade as well as the rising political importance of the Philippines in the ASEAN region.
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The Embassy in Kuala Lumpur has been handling a wide range of activities related to Danish interests in the Philippines, so Nicolai Ruge sees the decision to open an embassy as a natural continuation of developments.
“The discussion has been whether to increase our presence in the Philippines by initially only setting up a Commercial Representation or to go all the way and re-establish a full-fledged Embassy“, he said.
The Norwegian Embassy in the Philippines has managed visa applications to Denmark since 2002. To ensure a smooth transfer of this service back to the new Danish embassy, it is expected to be effective only from 1 January 2015.
“In terms of trade promotion, we are clearly seeing a growing interest from Danish businesses. Also, the number of Danes living in and visiting the Philippines seems to be growing. We are already providing consular assistance to Danes in need on a continuous basis and this is only likely to grow. So being represented on the ground in Manila, rather than operating out of Kuala Lumpur across the South China Sea, will make a big difference”, Nicolai Ruge said.
The Danish Ambassador cautioned that despite the impressive economic growth rates of the Philippines, there are many challenges to doing business in the Philippines. Besides weak infrastructure and corruption, the business environment is dominated by local conglomerates and there are legal restrictions on foreign investments into many business sectors.
The reform of the Foreign Service and the re-establishment of the Embassy in Manila will also result in some shuffling of personnel at the Kuala Lumpur mission. The position held by Jytte Nielsen as Head of Consular Affairs will be cut. She was the key person from the Embassy managing the search for missing Danes after typhoon Haiyan hit the Philippines in November 2013. At the same time, however, a new position as Food and Agriculture Attaché will be established, boosting the Kuala Lumpur Embassy’s trade section.
The new Danish Ambassador to the Philippines, based in Manila, will be Jan Top Christensen. He has previously served as Ambassador in Lebanon. As Head of Consular Affairs, the new embassy will get Pia Heide Salman, who has previously worked at the Danish Consulate in Guangzhou, China.