Estonian Day at the Shanghai World EXPO
Welcoming Address by Estonian Foreign Minister Mr. Urmas Paet
October 18, 2010
Dear Commissioner General (Mr. Hua Junduo)
Ladies and gentlemen,
I am proud to be here at the world exposition in Shanghai for the second time. This city is a most excellent place for a world fair, with its many skyscrapers reaching towards the blue sky illustrating the genuine and eternal endeavour of human beings towards a better life, like the slogan of the Shanghai EXPO also reminds us.
When I visited Shanghai in May, on the occasion of the opening of the current EXPO as well as the Estonian consulate, I mainly expected two things to happen: first, that the Estonian exhibit would not only attract people to visit it, but also make them think about what we are trying to say to the world. And secondly, that we would be able to boost economic ties between Estonia and China.
Five months later I am proud to note that the Estonian pavilion has been very well attended and our message has come through.
The theme of the current EXPO “Better City, Better Life” expresses our mutual hope to find solutions to the challenges of growing urbanisation. Not far from here one can visit Estonia’s interactive pavilion that calls on people to join in an initiative to “save” the world’s cities. It allows people to make their voices be heard regarding urbanisation, encouraging all visitors to think about topics related to growing cities and to look for solutions to them.
By today, the giant piggy banks in our pavilion are filled with good ideas from over 100 000 visitors from all over the world for improving the world’s cities. The same goes for the SAVECITY.ORG web-site, dedicated to gathering good thoughts and sending them to different cities.
When it comes to city life, Shanghai is sometimes compared with New York, for both cities are very international and have not only large ports, but famous stock exchanges as well. Shanghai is very European, too, the heart of the city and the suburbs, which once more demonstrates growing globalisation.
My hometown Tallinn, the European Capital of Culture for next year with its UNICEF protected medieval old town, has been elected one of the world’s most intelligent communities several times (by the Intelligent Community Forum). The biggest reason for this is the development level of the infrastructure as well as the ability to attract talented people. For example, Skype was invented in Tallinn.
We have all heard the term ‘emerging Asian tiger’. Well, Estonia’s size sets its limits, but we have pulled off the so-called ‘tiger leap’ that has allowed us to leap from backwardness to cutting-edge technology.
I believe that our determination to modernise our country by utilising new technologies in all areas of life is our greatest and most valuable asset. And this is something that others are pursuing as well, which gives us the opportunity to export our expertise about introducing information and communications technology (ICT) applications in everyday life.
Estonia’s innovation includes simple and time-saving solutions that have a significant effect on promoting trade and investment. While 83% of the public services in Estonia are available online, for enterprises the figure is 100%. We have built an advanced e-governance infrastructure, including digital ID cards with electronic authentication delivery, digital medical prescriptions, an e-tax and e-customs board, and voting over the Internet, to name just a few.
I would argue that the development of an inclusive, secure, and citizen-centred Information Society is the key to economic growth, modernisation, and social inclusion. Moreover, by improving the quality of public services we have been able to reduce costs at the same time. I believe this is something we all try to achieve.
Ladies and gentlemen,
Even if one cannot see anything in common between Estonia and China at first, the reality is quite different.
Going back in time, in the 1920s an Estonian Club already functioned in Shanghai, bringing together mainly Estonian seamen and bankers. It can be argued that back then China served as a springboard for several young Estonians wishing to boost their careers later at home. Estonian consulates were operating in both Shanghai and Harbin, dealing mostly with promoting trade and finding markets for an increasing number of Estonian goods.
Pelts (toornahk), tea, and rice – those were the three most important import articles from China to Estonia in the 1930s. Today we see a more mixed picture. China is no longer known as an exporter of raw materials, but increasingly, as exporter of electronics and other hi-tech and quality products. The trade volume between Estonia and China has increased by 30% during the last five years and we expect it to grow even more rapidly during next five years.
Speaking about strengthening the economic ties and trade relations between Estonia and China today, I see the most prospects in innovation and the IT sphere, as well as in transit and transportation, including the co-operation in the field of air transport. After all, Tallinn is the closest EU capital when looking from China.
Now, when there is an Estonian diplomatic and economic representation established in Shanghai, the cooperation between the two coastal cities - the capital of Estonia and the economic capital of East-Asia, Shanghai - seems very natural indeed. Moreover, the long-awaited ground-breaking to build a house for the Estonian Embassy in Beijing and the growth of its staff will enable us to harness the potential of mutual relations in a more concerted manner.
Taking into account the distance between us – only one country in between – I see a lot of opportunities for further cooperation. I believe that these opportunities should not be missed as using them would benefit both of our countries.
I see one very significant and encouraging factor when it comes to conducting business with China, and that is the similarity in our ways of life. Estonians and Chinese are both bound to the land and began urbanisation relatively recently. With a mostly rural background, our people are down to earth and hard-working, which is the very key to the economic progress of both Estonia and China today.
The interest towards China as an emerging power is growing world-wide and Estonia is no exception. Just a few weeks ago, the first Confucius Institute in the entire Baltic Sea area was opened in Tallinn. Like Master Kong has said: “to study and not think is a waste. To think and not study is dangerous.” Considering this saying, it is even more pleasing that Estonians are more and more eager to learn Chinese. In the Estonian Foreign Ministry, for example, a Chinese course for diplomats started this autumn for the first time.
I am glad it is a two-way street and the Chinese are more and more interested in Estonia as well. At the moment, about 100 young Chinese are acquiring their higher education in Estonia and I hope for this figure to increase. Signing an agreement for the reciprocal recognition of higher education diplomas and qualifications would help to further increase educational and research co-operation.
I am also pleased that there is now a book of Estonian fairy tales available in Mandarin Chinese. There is a lot for everyone to learn in Estonian folk tales. For example, that it is not impossible to turn one’s disadvantages into advantages, and in order to be successful in doing so, the help of our friends, both distant and close, is invaluable.
Let me conclude by arguing that our dynamic movement towards economic progress during the last decades confirms that for a turtle or a hedgehog to literally grow wings and win the race is possible in real life after all. Estonian Day in EXPO serves as a unique opportunity to showcase this to the entire world, for which I would like to thank our good hosts and friends. .