China smothers Vanhanen in cordial language
Finnish Prime Minister sees signs of developing democracy in Chinese politics
By Hanna Kaarto
"May friendship between Finland and China blossom forever!" "Finnish Prime Minister Matti Vanhanen is young and capable - and the highest-ranking guest ever to visit our city."
"What a glorious day!"
The political leader of the upcoming holder of the Presidency of the European Union is on an official visit to China, and the People's Republic is not cutting corners in pageantry. During the official welcoming formalities in front of the National People's Congress in Beijing on Tuesday, the Finnish national anthem was punctuated by a 19-gun salute, and the echoes resounded from Tienanmen Square, which had been cleared of all people.
The connection with the EU is important for China. Vanhanen is to host the EU-China summit, as well as the Europe and Asia Meeting (ASEM) in Helsinki in the autumn.
In addition to politics, the visit is about advancing trade. The delegation includes top-level corporate managers and business representatives from Antti Herlin of Kone to Nokia's Veli Sundbäck and Anne Brunila of the Finnish Forest Industries Federation.
At the Prime Minister's request, time was also set aside for visits to the Great Wall of China, and the emperors' palace area - the Forbidden City.
Vanhanen quickly rushes through the sights, stops for a moment to answer questions, smiles at the cameras, and cracks a joke.
The crowd of dozens of officials and security personnel, members of the trade delegation, and journalists are like an undulating flock of birds. Everyone is always in a hurry, even though the group is ahead of schedule.
Security measures for the visit of the Prime Minister of Finland are massive. When Vanhanen's delegation is on the move, motorways and the streets of large cities are closed over a distance of several kilometres. Thousands of people wait in their cars at intersections and on-ramps so that the line of black cars carrying the Finns might proceed without difficulty. Soldiers and plainclothes police guard the sides of the road. Even the bushes on the shoulders of the motorways are manned.
In addition to dealing with security, the host country also probably wants to keep the visit of the Western delegation under its control.
A person identifying himself as a representative of the Chinese Foreign Ministry even tries to take part in an interview in Vanhanen's hotel room with what is said to be an independent Chinese newspaper. Vanhanen himself does not even notice it. His aides tactfully keep the curious onlooker outside.
Vanhanen is pleased with the updating of political relations with China. He finds signs of progress in Chinese politics. He is impressed that on many occasions the Chinese themselves took up difficult issues such as the country's environmental problems.
"The glossing over of problems in the manner that was familiar from the days of the Soviet Union, does not take place here", he says.
Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao, whom Vanhanen met on Tuesday, also took up discussions on democracy at the village level. "He said that if it works locally, it could be tried on a broader level", Vanhanen says.
China sees Finland as an especially close friend, because Finland was among the first Western countries to establish diplomatic relations with Communist China in 1950. All Chinese politicians whom Vanhanen meets point to this historical connection.
Finland is hoping to take full advantage of the special relationship, and help Finnish companies. There is room for much corporate image promotion during the week.
At times the connection between business and politics seems to go to far from the Finnish point of view.
In Shenyang, in the poor northeastern part of China, a local party official asks Vanhanen to bring a Stora Enso factory to the city. The Prime Minister promises nothing, but says politely that he would forward the message.
Helsingin Sanomat / First published in print 29.4.2006
More on this subject:
On the move almost all the time
Previously in HS International Edition:
Finpro: High demand for Finnish energy efficiency in China (27.4.2006)
Finnish and Chinese PMs discuss bilateral relations and EU affairs in Beijing (26.4.2006)
HANNA KAARTO / Helsingin Sanomat