Speech by President of the Republic of Finland, Mr. Sauli Niinistö, at the dinner in honour of President of the Republic of Korea, Mr. Moon Jae-in, and Mrs. Kim Jung-sook on 10 June 2019

Esteemed President Moon, esteemed Mrs. Kim,

It has been a great honour and pleasure for me to welcome you to Finland for this state visit. Thirteen years have passed since the previous visit by President of the Republic of Korea to Finland.

We have been able to agree today that there are many reasons for closer cooperation and contact between our two countries. We will already take important steps in these efforts during your visit. In addition to the meetings, a number of cooperation agreements will be signed between our governments and companies. We are in a good position to continue our cooperation.

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“Hyvä, hyvä”, or “good good”. These words are probably still what Finland is most widely known of in Korea. “Hyvä, hyvä”, spoken ‘good, good’ in plain Finnish, is repeated in a xylitol TV advertisement that has drawn a lot of attention in your country. To be honest, we Finns do not quite recognise ourselves in the character depicted in the ad.

However, the association between Finland and “good” has stretched further than this product alone. Thanks to the ad, numerous positive characteristics are associated with Finland in Korea, many of which we ourselves like to cherish, too. Education and research, creativity and innovation, health and environmental friendliness. These cornerstones of our well-being have also been discussed today. Valuing these features unites our countries.

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According to international comparisons, the learning results in Finnish and Korean schools are among the best in the world. Our good results have, of course, been achieved through different routes, stemming from the respective histories and cultures of our two countries. What we have in common is an appreciation of high-quality education. Parents can trust it to help their children to succeed in life.

In addition to education, both countries invest in research, product development and innovation. It is quite fitting that the programme for your visit focuses on the importance of start-ups. These young, innovative growth companies will play an increasingly important role in creating sustainable economic growth and prosperity. I believe that Finland and Korea have much to offer to each other in this sector.

We are living in the middle of a major technological transformation. In Korea, you talk about the fourth industrial revolution. Here in Finland, we often refer to the same phenomenon a bit more modestly as digitalisation.

As high-tech countries, we are both in a good position to seize the opportunities offered by breakthroughs such as 5G and artificial intelligence. An example of this is the growing importance of health technology and health data in safeguarding the well-being of our ageing population.

Along with all the good that they bring, rapid developments in technology also raise difficult questions. We need to work together to find answers to them.

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We will not live on technology alone n the future, either. We also need interaction among people. Culture creates a fertile common ground for interaction. For us, music has been the most familiar form of Korean culture.

Year after year, Koreans have been very successful in classical music competitions held in Finland. Our younger generation is enthusiastic about Korean K-pop. It has inspired many young Finns to get to know the Korean lifestyle and culture, and for some of them to even study Korean.

Finnish and Korean are sometimes said to be related languages. I do not know how strong the scientific evidence in support of this claim is. But what we do know is that linguistics forms a historical link between our countries. Gustav John Ramstedt, a Finnish linguist, explorer and diplomat, compiled the first scientifically valid grammar book of the Korean language written by a foreigner in 1939.

Linguistics, exploration and diplomacy are basically all about the same thing: a better understanding of other cultures. Common language and common views are hard to find without direct contacts. Your visit improves our citizens’ opportunities to create contacts with each other. New transport links and the mobility of workers between our countries make the geographical distance less significant.

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In the strained global political climate, I am concerned about the future of diplomacy. In difficult times, we need more dialogue, not less. It is essential for safeguarding all the good that we have achieved over the past few decades in the Nordic countries, Europe and the world. Democracy, equality, the rule of law. And above all, peace. It would be dangerous to take these achievements for granted.

An international rules-based order is the best guarantee of peace. We understand its importance both in Europe and in the Korean Peninsula. We also need common rules to combat climate change. None of us can survive the global challenges alone. We must defend the good that we have together.

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Esteemed President Moon, esteemed Mrs. Kim,

I would like to propose a toast to your honour and to the friendship between Finland and the Republic of Korea.