HELSINKI, April 4 (Xinhua) -- Chinese President Xi Jinping has embarked on a state visit to Finland today, and the Finnish people are excited and hopeful about the visit of the top Chinese leader.
The Chinese leader visits Finland in the year that marks the centenary of Finland's independence, showing "respect and appreciation for the long-standing friendship between the two nations," said Paavo Virkkunen, head of Visit Finland, a government-funded organization.
Virkkunen, who works to promote the Nordic nation as a destination for tourism and investment, has been a witness of Finnish-Chinese friendship over the past 30 years.
He led the negotiations on the opening of a non-stop Finnair flight from Helsinki to Beijing back in the 1980s. Now three decades on, there are two Finnair fights linking Helsinki and the Chinese cities of Beijing and Shanghai with Alipay, one of the biggest digital payment systems in the world launched by China's Alibaba Group, installed on board.
Finnair CEO Pekka Vauramo told Xinhua recently that the airline is a strong supporter of China's Belt and Road Initiative, and expects more cooperation with China in aviation.
The initiative, which was put forward by President Xi in 2013, aims to build a trade and infrastructure network connecting Asia with Europe and Africa along and beyond the ancient Silk Road trade routes.
But there has not only been a buzz among businesses; the Finnish people have also been avidly discussing the Chinese president's visit. While some expect the arrival of giant pandas and the building of high-speed railways, others are keen on topics like tourism and winter sports.
"There is an increasing number of Chinese tourists here in Finland, and I see more and more independent travelers as well," said a Finnish woman who wanted to be referred to as Sirkku.
Sirkku has traveled to China eight times since 1992. "I have seen huge changes in China. It's now a very open and modernized country," she said.
Teppo Rouvi, a designer by occupation and an ardent lover of the Chinese tea culture, is also a frequent traveler to China, and purchases different tea products and utensils during his visits.
He said it is surprising that the Chinese head of state will visit his country, adding "I hope President Xi might have time to sip the kung fu tea made by a Finn."
Hannu Tolonen, a sports consultant with the Finnish Ministry of Education and Culture, said that Finland is willing to cooperate with China to develop its winter games and play a part in the organization of the 2022 Winter Olympic Games, which China will host.
Finland has unique experience in winter games organization, stadium building and operation, as well as athlete and coach training, said Tolonen, adding that Finland can work with China to develop its winter games, sports facilities and training courses based on China's actual conditions.
On Monday, just one day ahead of his visit, Xi published a signed article in the Finnish newspaper Helsinki Times with the title "Our Enduring Friendship," which has received positive responses from the Finnish media and public.
Finnish broadcaster YLE translated the article into Finnish, and highlighted the facts that the Chinese president praised the Finnish composer Jean Sibelius and the Linux operating system. The biggest Finnish newspaper Helsingin Sanomat said in its report that the Chinese president will be "the most important guest" in Finland this year as the country marks the centenary of its independence.
"It's a very nice and wise article. Focusing on enduring friendship, the article goes through the main history -- points of Finland and China's relationship, and increasing interaction between Finland and China. It also mentions the European Union (EU)," Alexis Kouros, editor-in-chief of Helsinki Times, told Xinhua in an interview.
"It's paying attention to Finland, and the tone is very friendly and optimistic," added Kouros.
He said that in recent years, the relations between the two nations have improved economically and politically. "You can see in some shops here they have things in Chinese. I think after this trip, people expect to have more good news about new cooperation, initiatives and investments," Kouros said.
In an interview with Xinhua on Monday, Finnish President Sauli Niinisto said his country expects to deepen cooperation with China in various areas during the Chinese president's visit.
"We can find common views on how to further develop China-Finland relations as well as China-EU relations, and find solutions to myriad problems and headaches of mankind," said Niinisto.