I am honoured to have this opportunity to address you in the prestigious premises of the House of Representatives.
Allow me to begin by conveying my deepest sympathy to the Japanese people as we approach the Remembrance Day for the loss of human lives and suffering of the Great East Japan earthquake, the following tsunami and the nuclear disaster that occurred five years ago. My deepest condolences to the families affected. I would also like to express my appreciation of the relentless efforts made by the Japanese Government, officials and volunteers to deal with the crisis.
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Finland and Japan have enjoyed exceptionally close and fruitful relations over the years. Our cooperation extends over all areas of our societies, people, academics and companies. This has greatly benefited both of our countries. I would like to thank the Friendship committees of the parliaments of both countries in developing our cooperation, particularly the personal involvement and activities of the Chairwoman, the honourable Ms. Yuriko Koike.
Political relations are built on shared values, trust and mutual respect. These are the basis of our excellent Finnish–Japanese relations. Speaking about the trust: I was Finland’s Minister of Finance in the 1990s at a time when the Finnish economy was struggling. We had to find lenders to help us through the difficult times. Japan trusted in Finland and helped us. I can now proudly say that Finland was trustworthy because we paid back every yen. I am sure that such experiences have even deepened our mutual trust and respect.
Finland and Japan are close and alike in many respects: frequent direct flights, real-time communication and improved logistics are bringing us closer together. We also share Russia as a common neighbour and increasing opportunities in the Arctic, namely the Northern Sea Route, invite us to join hands.
Trade between Finland and Japan has largely focused on forestry-based industries, ICT and machinery. Japanese exports to Finland have traditionally concentrated on the automotive and electronics industries. Our commercial relations currently cover a wide range of major industrial areas, services, research and development. Our volumes of direct investment are significant and form an important part of Finnish–Japanese trade and economic activity.
The Arctic plays a promising role in our cooperation. In 2017, Finland will take the chair of the Arctic Council when Finland celebrates its centennial anniversary. We are delighted to invite Japanese attendees to contribute to the Council’s activities and broaden the arctic cooperation between our countries.
In addition to bilateral cooperation, Finland and Japan are united by the need to face the same global challenges in the forthcoming years. As regards climate change encouraging steps were taken at the Paris UN Climate Conference, eighteen years after the adoption of the Kyoto protocol. We must now follow through with our commitments and push actively for further contributions.
The second challenge is directly linked to our societies and relates to something we have very much in common: the question of an ageing population. Digitalisation is opening up opportunities for our two nations and we should take serious action to benefit from such openings: digital hospitals and a range of innovations in health care and social services.
With respect to another urgent global trend, the urbanisation, Japan is a clear forerunner with 93% of its population living in urban areas. Urbanisation has great potential for creating economic growth and improving the living standards of many people. Smart cities and solutions for public transport, green energy, waste management, clean water and social services are areas in which Finland and Japan have special expertise.
In times of crisis or economic distress, we can easily become short-sighted and disregard even the existential issues of the future. I would like to see Finland and Japan cooperate in tackling such issues. This would also offer major opportunities for both Finnish and Japanese businesses. I am proud to be accompanied on this visit by a group of high-level Finnish companies and look forward to fruitful discussions on our economic cooperation.
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From global megatrends and business opportunities, let me finish by taking you briefly to a warmer region: the Moomin Valley. I know that the Moomin characters are extremely popular in Japan, as they are in Finland. I was delighted to hear that the very first Moomin theme park outside Finland will be opened in 2017 in Japan, at Lake Miyazawa in the City of Hanno. Maybe this also bears testimony to the strong desire of both of our peoples to live in harmony with nature.
Diplomatic relations between our two countries are approaching a significant landmark in the form of their one-hundredth anniversary in 2019. We have remained close friends and partners since the beginning of our official and business interaction. May this visit to your beautiful country inspire even closer Finnish–Japanese cooperation in the future.