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Speeches, 2/21/2018

Speech by Minister Timo Soini at the Japan National Press Club

Speech by Minister Timo Soini at the event organized by the Japan National Press Club, Tokyo, 21 February 2018.

I am very pleased to have this opportunity to address you at this prestigious forum, the Japan National Press Club.

The Freedom of the Press is fundamental for our democracies. Without it, there can be no informed electorate, political debate will suffer, and holding leaders accountable will not be possible. Now, some of you may think: “This is what ministers always say when they speak to us journalists. But do they really mean it? What is the catch?” I have been in politics for many years. And I can admit: my relationship with the media is – shall we say, complicated. Sometimes it has given me great positive publicity and made it possible for my party to create real political alternatives to other parties. At other times, reading the headlines in the morning has turned the milk sour in my coffee. So, with a free press, it is not always easy to be a politician. But let me be clear: that is the way things are supposed to be. Having the media give me a hard time is part of the package.

When the first Finnish Ambassador to Japan, the renowned explorer and scientist Gustaf John Ramstedt arrived in this country on the 12th of February, 1920, he was warmly received. In his memoirs, he mentions specifically the hospitality of one group of people: members of the Japanese Association of the League of Nations. At that time, the memory of the horrors of the Great War was still very fresh in people’s minds. The supporters of the League of Nations hoped that it had been the War to End All Wars. The peace movement that was genuinely global and strong thus played a part building the Finnish-Japanese collaboration here in Tokyo. As we know, the hopes of the peace movement were dashed; the Great War got another name – the First World War – because there was to be a second one.

In 1945, Finland and Japan both had to rebuild our economies, and find our places in the post-War world. We both made the conscious choice to work for a world order in which the behavior of states would be regulated by internationally agreed rules. Conflicts were to be prevented and resolved through institutions such as the United Nations. We both had to work hard to regain our positions in the global order. Both Japan and Finland became member of the United Nations in 1956. Japan joined the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) in 1964 and Finland in 1969. While these were indeed milestones, there was an earlier one that, emotionally speaking, was at least as important for Finns: the Helsinki Summer Olympic Games of 1952. This was the first – and so far the only – time when Finland has hosted the Olympics. Those Games also marked the return of Japan to the Olympic family.

Today, the commitment of our two countries to upholding and improving the rules-based international order remains as strong as ever. This order is under increasing pressure. Key principles and commitments of international co-operation are being challenged. The role of the UN, WTO and other co-operative organizations is being called to question. The UN Security Council has not fulfilled its role in safeguarding international peace and order. There are worries regarding internal developments in many countries. Basic freedoms, universal human rights, independent justice and the rule of law in general are under pressure. Civil society actors find it increasingly difficult to act. And in many countries women's role and rights in ensuring viable societies is not realized.

We can see the challenges very clearly:

The perceived negative effects of globalization; demographic change; uncontrolled migration; unintended consequences of technological development; as well as the challenges brought by climate change, are giving rise to discontent, fear, and an increasing readiness to accept authoritarian solutions. More and more voices are demanding economic policies based on protectionism. Including in the United States, a bulwark for free trade and the liberal order since World War Two. In Europe, international law has been violated by Russia, with its illegal annexation of Crimea and the continuing conflict in eastern Ukraine. Russia is also aiming at a more fundamental change in the security system. Russia seeks to strengthen her status as a great power and seems to cherish ideas of spheres of influence. China is also seeking new economic opportunities and greater political influence. Institutions such as the European Union, the Council of Europe and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, are under pressure.

In East Asia, I see similar developments:

Like Europe, this is a region where changes in great power relations have an immediate impact on regional and national security. International treaties are under challenge or being interpreted in ways which risk making them meaningless. The erosion of norms underpinning the international trading system hurt Asian economies that depend on free trade just like European economies. Societies are undergoing unprecedented demographic and technological changes and becoming increasingly complex and increasingly vulnerable to, for example, disinformation and cyber attacks. Finally, North Korea with its unacceptable and unlawful ambitions for nuclear weapons adds another element of uncertainty to the regional and global security order.

Some suggest replacing the old international order with something fundamentally different. I believe we should focus on making the present order more effective and more democratic. To reform existing institutions, not to destroy them. To share power within them in a different way, not create rival institutions. The guiding principle should always be the good of all humanity, and the freedom and rights of the individual.

For Finland, the rules-based international order is a both a foundation of our survival and prosperity, and a cornerstone of our foreign policy.

Every alternative to a shared set of rules and principles ─ and a universal respect for them ─ is simply worse. If we let our post-World War Two -order erode, we risk sleep-walking towards the abyss once again. For a small country like Finland, this may be self-evident. If big powers get to decide the fate of small ones, we feel immediately under threat. That's why we will defend our right to decide our own destiny, no matter what it takes. But, I argue that the rules-based international order is the best possible world for the superpowers, too. In today's world, it is impossible for any one state to dominate all others. Therefore, a system of common rules and compromises is the best way to security and prosperity for all.

As for Finland, we also believe very strongly in the Rule of Law. The supremacy of the Law has been a guiding principle in our history, both domestically and internationally. To maintain a credible foreign and security policy, we need partnerships. The EU membership is crucial in this sense. We also build stronger bilateral relations with the Nordic countries, the United States, and others. As an open economy, our well-being relies on a free, rules-based international trading system. We are confident that as long as the rules of the game are fair for everyone, we will carve out our living from the global markets.We also know that our cultural and social vitality rely on extensive interaction with the wider world, both near and far.

Finland and Japan are among the most stable and resilient societies in the world. We want to uphold the rules-based international order, always look for peaceful solutions to conflicts, and seek to promote the common good. There are many examples of this – your efforts to create the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement, our common support to the EU-Japan Free Trade Agreement and the international climate negotiations and so on. As we speak, Finland and Japan are also working to diminish the threat that the uncontrolled spread of small arms presents to human life. Finland had the previous and Japan has the current Presidency of the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT). Geography is connecting us in more ways than ever before. Eurasia is becoming a reality both overland through Central Asia, and the Northern Sea Route will link Finland and Japan even more directly.

Prospects for more collaboration are numerous:

Closer cooperation in the Arctic.

Joint efforts to limit black carbon emissions into the atmosphere especially in the North.

More collaboration in promoting the rights and status of women and children globally.

Closer interaction in development policy.

Cooperation in enhancing our capabilities in conflict resolution and peace building, including civilian crisis management.

The year 2019 marks the centennial of our diplomatic relations. We are launching the second century of our bilateral relations. The auspices are excellent: We are brought together not only by our joint fascination in the Moomins, manga, anime, design and aurora borealis, but so much more. More Japanese are visiting Finland, and more Finns are visiting Japan than ever before. We share a spiritual affinity in many ways. Our appreciation of nature is but one example. Our world is changing fast. I outlined the many challenges. But I also listed some of the many, many opportunities available for us. What better time to work together to make the world a safer and more prosperous place!

Thank you.

This document

Updated 2/21/2018

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