Speech by President of the Republic Sauli Niinistö at the banquet held in honour of President of China Xi Jinping and Mrs Peng Liyuan on 5 April 2017

I am delighted to welcome you and your spouse to Finland. It is a very great honour for us that you are visiting our country while we celebrate the centenary of our independence.

My wife and I had the opportunity to be your guests four years ago. That was an unforgettable visit. Today has been characterised by the same friendly spirit, as have all of our meetings around the world.

Relations between Finland and China are excellent, deep and pragmatic. They date back several decades. In 1950, Finland was one of the first western countries to recognise and establish diplomatic relations with the People’s Republic of China.

It was also the first Western country to enter into a bilateral trade agreement with China. It is worth noting that Finnair, our national airline, was the first in western Europe to begin direct scheduled flights to China. The connections and cooperation between our two countries have become wide-ranging and everyday.
We are active in making high-level visits to one another. I am sure that this will continue in the future. During my visit to China in 2013, we agreed to intensify our cooperation into a forward-looking partnership. This has become a reality today.

China is Finland’s most important trading partner in Asia. Our commercial relations have developed favourably, despite the world’s economic problems. 2016 was a record year in this respect. We wish Chinese investors a warm welcome.

In addition to investments, we gladly welcome Chinese tourists to Finland. They are rapidly growing in number. Growth in tourism is also increasing direct contacts between our people, and thereby our understanding of each other’s cultures.

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Uncertainty has arisen in the world due to conflicts, uncontrolled immigration, intolerance, economic uncertainty and terrorism. These problems cannot be solved overnight, but by joint efforts between all countries.

We appreciate China’s active and responsible role in resolving global issues. As a permanent member of the UN Security Council, China plays a key role in resolving global challenges and safeguarding stability around the world.

We can meet our global challenges more effectively by acting together. A good example of this is our cooperation on environmental issues, particularly in the fight against climate change, in which China has shown important leadership.

In addition, Finland emphasises the importance of the international order as a key principle of international relations. A well-functioning and just international order based on international law and norms is in everybody’s interests.

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I know that you are a great football fan and we have taken note of China’s determined efforts in the sport. Our countries have historical connections in this respect too. When the People’s Republic of China became an official member of the international football association, FIFA, in June 1952, Finland immediately invited the Chinese national team to participate in the Olympic Games in Helsinki. Unfortunately, this did not occur so Finland arranged a separate friendly game between our countries on 4 August 1952. This, I think, was the first official international match played by the national football team of the People’s Republic of China.

In addition to turf, we are united by snow and ice. I am delighted by the closer connections and cooperation between our countries in winter sports. This includes ice hockey, one of my and Finland’s favourite sports. I hope that our countries continue with their close cooperation as we set our sights on successful Winter Olympics in Beijing.

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Your visit is excellently timed. We are celebrating the centenary of Finland’s independence this year. In a very short time, Finland transformed from a poor and remote nation to become a Nordic welfare state with international responsibilities. China’s development, too, has been extraordinary: hundreds of millions of Chinese people have been lifted out of poverty in just a few decades, and China has become the world’s second largest economy.

How did both of our countries succeed in this? Upon your arrival in Finland yesterday, you referred to the Finnish sisu spirit as a symbol of overcoming difficulties. I think that the following words, by the great Chinese philosopher Laozi, aptly describe the Finnish sisu spirit and the similar mental landscape of our peoples: “He does not assert himself. That is why he shines. He does not act as if he is right. That is why he is noted He does not brag. That is why he succeeds. He does not boast. That is why he endures.”

Relations between Finland and China have always been based on trust and respect. Our cooperation, which became official today, in protecting the panda aptly reflects all of these principles. We understand the importance of the panda to the people of China. I can assure you that Finland highly appreciates this cooperation. The arrival of pandas in Finland would be a very great honour during our celebratory year.

I would like to propose a toast to the new, forward-looking era in the relations between our countries and to the happiness, health and mutual cooperation of our peoples.