Xi's trip to Finland reflects global trade shift

BEIJING/HELSINKI • Before his first meeting with US President Donald Trump, Chinese President Xi Jinping will stop over in Helsinki. More than just logistics, the Finnish trip reflects a fundamental shift in commercial and diplomatic ties.

For the Chinese, "the signal is that the US is not the only diplomatic focus for China; Europe is also very significant", said Mr Feng Zhongping, a vice-president at the China Institute of Contemporary International Relations.

Mr Xi left Beijing yesterday afternoon for a two-day state visit to Finland. He is due to visit the United States tomorrow for a two-day summit with Mr Trump.

As the US President continues to promote "America First" and warns of a difficult meeting ahead with Mr Xi, China is carefully positioning itself for the new global order.

In an article penned for Monday's edition of the English- language Helsinki Times, Mr Xi said: "China is of the view that European integration is consistent with the trend of history, and a prosperous and stable Europe is conducive to world peace and development. We believe that Europe has the wisdom and capability to overcome the challenges. In this process, Europe can count on China's support."

MUCH AT STAKE FOR CHINA

China is ready to take on a bigger role in global trade politics. As the largest trader, they have the most to lose if the world edges towards a trade war.

FINNISH TRADE MINISTER KAI MYKKANEN

It is in the field of trade that China and Europe stand to gain the most. "China is ready to take on a bigger role in global trade politics," said Finnish Trade Minister Kai Mykkanen. "As the largest trader, they have the most to lose if the world edges towards a trade war."

The European Union is already China's main trading partner, while China is the EU's second behind the US. Trade flows currently amount to well over €1 billion (S$1.5 billion) per day, but there is scope for more.

Finland hopes to deepen cooperation with China in various areas, said Finnish President Sauli Niinisto. "I am sure my friendship with President Xi will deepen," he told Xinhua in an exclusive interview ahead of Mr Xi's visit. "More importantly, we can find common views on how to further develop China-Finland relations as well as China-EU relations."

As the US and even Britain appear to turn their backs on free trade, "the relative attractiveness of China as an economic partner grows", said Mr Mikael Mattlin, a senior lecturer at the University of Turku in Finland.

BLOOMBERG, XINHUA

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 05, 2017, with the headline 'Xi's trip to Finland reflects global trade shift'. Print Edition | Subscribe