You are perusing an article from the archives. Lately, we have gone through major updates. Therefore, it is possible that you will experience minor quirks in layout when reading older articles. To provide you an improved reading experience, we have started to clean our pearls from the past. Just keep reading.



“One centimeter to the right!”

The commander of Guard Battalion demands an exact formation of his troops ready to salute the Japanese prime minister and his spouse, Shinzo and Akie Abe, who are to arrive in front of the Presidential Palace on Monday morning for their first official state visit.

The sound of police sirens echo from nearby buildings that corner the Northern Esplanade, the road that leads to the palace.

“One centimeter to the front!”

A Japanese cameraman erects his back, takes his hands out of his pockets and takes another look at his phone, which displays a full-screen Wikipedia picture of President Sauli Niinistö. You don’t want to miss this guy.

The commander of Guard Battallion is inspecting the gap between his troops. Picture: Tony Öhberg for Finland Today

The government Audi with the Japanese flag flapping in front pushes the breaks at the golden gates, which glow in the scorching sunlight. When Prime Minister Abe steps out from the car, the first thing he sees is the straight formation of the troops and their shining faces in the sun.

He seems pleased, then he turns around and starts his determined stroll toward the gates, now joined with his spouse, where President Niinistö and his spouse, Jenni Haukio, arrive to meet them. After the handshakes and national anthems, the heads of states step inside the palace for private talks.

Akie Abe presents a welcoming gift for the Finnish presidential couple. Picture: Tony Öhberg for Finland Today

At the press conference, Abe and Niinistö said that they shared many similar views. They both flag for free trade in the EU, and in fact, a deal between two of the world’s biggest economic areas is in progress. In short, Japan would open up its markets and remove barriers for European goods such as the high tax on the import of chocolate (up to 30 percent of taxes), on cheese (up to 40 percent on cheese) and wine, for which exporters have to pay taxes of 15 percent.

For Japan, in turn, it’s mostly about increasing their export of cars, a concept that Finland as the forerunner knows very well.

Both leaders condemned the missile tests in North Korea, which has fired 17 missiles in 2017. Only six days ago, it reported of firing an intercontinental ballistic missile, which according to the country, could reach anywhere in the world.

Abe and Niinistö share similar views in many things. They met previously during Niinistö’s official visit in Japan in March, 2016. Picture: Tony Öhberg for Finland Today

Abe and Niinistö praised the diplomacy between the nations. “In 2019, we will celebrate the 100th anniversary of the diplomatic relations between Japan and Finland and I believe that this will improve our relations even further,” President Niinistö said.

Abe, in turn, praised Finland by saying that “Santa Claus and Moomins have for many years given dreams to children in Japan.”

The press broke into a heartfelt laughter.

Soldier and the red carpet. Picture: Tony Öhberg for Finland Today

Speech by President Sauli Niinistö during the luncheon in honour of Prime Minister of Japan Shinzo Abe

Your visit is a great honour and pleasure for my spouse and me. We have many fond memories of our visit to Japan last year. I greatly appreciate the discussion we held then, which we have continued today. We are also delighted that you are visiting Finland at just this time, when we are celebrating the centenary of our independence.

The relations between our countries are excellent. We share similar strengths and challenges, and are seeking common solutions. In the spirit of our declaration of strategic partnership, our cooperation extends to a large number of sectors and areas of international policy.

A strong sense of duty and work ethic characterise both of our peoples. In addition, a special, mutual understanding exists between the Japanese and Finnish people. We also often have the same view of the changes occurring around us.

Unfortunately, the world is becoming more uncertain. Old conflicts have not been resolved and new threats have emerged. Our rule-based international system is being challenged. As the representatives of two stable, well-functioning democracies, we know that the future of our planet can only be secured through cooperation between nations. The UN system, WTO and many other global and regional cooperation forums need our support.

Like the EU and Japan, Finland and Japan could cooperate even more than now. We must uphold international agreements and standards together. We can shore up agreement-based multilateralism, the liberalisation of trade and investment, and the search for solutions to global problems.

* * *

Both the Japanese and Finns are great sports lovers. We are keenly looking forward to the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympic Games of 2020.
We know that Japan will provide a stunning backdrop to outstanding sporting achievements.

I would like to share an example of successful Finnish-Japanese cooperation relating to sports and high technology. Tommi Mäkinen, who was the World Rally Champion four times, designed and built the racing car for the Toyota Gazoo Racing stable, which Toyota has used to return to the top of the event. He did this, alongside his team, here in Finland. In addition, just a few weeks ago the Toyota Group made a major investment in the development of autonomous vehicles in Finland.

Toyota’s example shows that, when we combine our skills, expertise and resources, Finland and Japan can be the best in the world. Our task is to encourage the growth of successful cooperation of this kind in new areas, as we approach the centenary of our diplomatic relations in 2019.

I propose a toast to friendship and cooperation. Kampai – kippis!

Tony Öhberg