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President of China Xi Jinping shakes hands with the delegation during his official state visit at the front of the Presidential Palace in Helsinki, Finland on April 5, 2017. Picture: Tony Öhberg for Finland Today

Xi Jinping, the president of China, and his spouse, Peng Liyuan, arrived with a government Audi in front of the Presidential Palace in Helsinki on Wednesday morning. The Market Square across the palace was ghostly empty, and the whole area of Esplanade had been blocked from all traffic. The Coast Guard patrolled the sea, and a man in army suit was observing the area from the roof of the palace with binoculars as the army helicopter guarded the airspace with thundering sound.

President Xi arrived in Finland with his spouse, Peng Liyuan. Before marrying Xi, Liyuan was a famous opera singer in China. When she performed on TV, Chinese web stores offered copies of clothes she had worn during the broadcast. Picture: Tony Öhberg for Finland Today

The heavy clouds drizzled rain and it was chilly. But when President Sauli Niinistö grabbed his Chinese counterpart’s hand, there was sincere warmth in the eyes of the presidents’.

Ok. I may be reaching here – from where I was standing it was hard to see their eyes but they indeed were smiling. It’s also true that President Xi’s visit is historical. The previous Chinese president who visited Finland was Jiang Zem in 1995. The eyes of the world are now upon our northern country of 5.5 million people, a temporary stop for a leader of a country of 1.4 billion. “I am sure there would be competition to get him in some other place as well. I would presume that Finland is currently looked upon with envy in Europe,” said Jyrki Kallio, a researcher on Chinese political culture and foreign policy at the Finnish Institute of International Affairs.

After an exchange of gifts (Niinistö gave a pair of skis to Xi and Xi returned the gesture with a pair of roller-skates) the presidents withdrew into a room to hold private talks. They talked about an hour from which half an hour was reserved for face-to-face discussions between them two.

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi signs an agreement on cooperative panda research between the countries. Picture: Tony Öhberg for Finland Today

There was an official signing ceremony where several agreements between the countries were signed by their representative ministers. Minister of Agriculture and Environment Kimmo Tiilikainen signed an agreement on collaborative conservation and research of giant panda between China Wildlife Conservation and Association and Ähtäri Zoo in Ähtäri, Southern Ostrobothnia region, located about 320 kilometers from Helsinki.

Two cuddly giant pandas will arrive in Finland by the end of the year and they will be housed in the Ähtäri Zoo. “For the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry this is the culmination of international cooperation during Finland’s 100th anniversary of independence, Tiilikainen rejoiced after the signing ceremony in a bulletin. Among other things, the high standard of veterinary medicine in Finland was one of the deciding factors that China wanted to ship their furry national treasures here.

President Niinistö met with Xi for the fourth time. Niinistö made an official visit to China in April 2013, and his most recent bilateral meeting with Xi was in The Hague, Netherlands, in March 2014. Picture: Tony Öhberg for Finland Today

At the press conference, the presidents assured that both countries will aim to enhance and deepen their business relations in areas such as trade and investment, science and technology. “The two sides will enrich people to people and cultural exchanges and the two sides will increase the mutual understanding and bond linking our peoples – especially the young people,” President Xi said. “The two sides will strengthen tourism cooperation and encourage more citizens to go sightseeing in each other’s countries,” he continued. Xi also said that there will be a closer cooperation on winter sports between Finland and China, which is the host of the 2022 Winter Olympics. Then the pandas were on the table again. “The two sides also agreed to carry out cooperative panda research and make the pandas messengers of friendship between our two countries,” Xi said.

And that was about it. There were no questions allowed at the end of the press conference, but the presidents were still smiling when walking out of the shining room.