President of China, Xi Jinping (left) and President of Finland, Sauli Niinistö inspecting the guard of honour in Beijing on Monday, January 14, 2019. The President of Finland, Sauli Niinistö is on an official two days state visit to China. / Lehtikuva


As Finland's presidential election heads to a decisive second round, the focus is increasingly turning to how foreign policy, particularly relations with China, will shape under the new leadership. The two contenders, Pekka Haavisto and Alexander Stubb, both experienced politicians with distinct viewpoints, present different paths for Finland's engagement with the global superpower.


Scenario 1: Pekka Haavisto's Presidency

Under a Haavisto presidency, Finland's approach towards China might be characterised by a careful balancing act. Haavisto's comments during the campaign suggest a nuanced understanding of the complex relationship between Finland, the EU, and China. He has emphasised the importance of the US-China relationship and its implications for Finland and the EU, acknowledging the global challenges posed by deteriorating relations between these superpowers.

Haavisto has also raised concerns about human rights and cybersecurity in dealings with China, indicating that these issues would be a significant part of his diplomatic agenda. However, his approach seems to lean towards maintaining a dialogue and possibly continued economic engagement, provided that human rights concerns are addressed. This stance may lead to a more cautious and measured approach to economic ties, with a focus on reducing dependencies in critical sectors while engaging in areas like climate change and the green economy.

In a recent article from Iltalehti featuring Pekka Haavisto, Finland's relations with China are touched upon within a broader discussion of global security and Finland's foreign policy under potential shifts in global alliances. Haavisto, reflecting on the complexities of international relations, raises concerns about China's trajectory and its impact on global stability. He questions whether the West might be making a similar misjudgment with China as it did with the Soviet Union, especially considering President Xi Jinping's challenges in fulfilling economic promises to the Chinese people. This introspection hints at a broader concern about China's internal stability and its implications for global security. Haavisto's contemplations reveal a nuanced view of China, acknowledging the potential for significant changes within the country, which could have profound implications for Finland and the broader international community. This perspective underscores the importance of Finland's diplomatic engagement and strategic planning in navigating the complexities of its relationship with China amidst global geopolitical shifts.


Scenario 2: Alexander Stubb's Presidency

If Alexander Stubb is elected, Finland's policy towards China could take a more assertive turn, especially in light of his views on the global power dynamics and the technological competition shaping the world order. Stubb has expressed concerns about the rise of digital authoritarianism and the impact of technological advancements on democratic processes.

Stubb's approach suggests a stronger alignment with the European Union and possibly the United States in responding to China's technological and economic ascent. He advocates for a human-centric approach to AI and technological development, which could lead to stringent regulations on tech imports from China. Furthermore, his expectation of the US continuing its hardline stance against China indicates that under his leadership, Finland might support more restrictive policies towards Chinese tech companies.

In an article from Ilta-Sanomat, Alexander Stubb, offered a nuanced perspective on China's role in global geopolitics, distinguishing it from the likes of Russia, Iran, and North Korea. Stubb argues against grouping China with these nations, seeing it instead as a regional stabiliser with geopolitical interests that differ significantly from those of Russia, particularly in areas like the Korean Peninsula. He suggests that China's desire to position itself alongside the United States as a major global player offers a "glimmer of hope" for preventing a third world war, akin to the Cold War era's balance of power that averted global conflict. Sari Essayah, supporting Stubb's view, notes that Finland's President Sauli Niinistö has engaged with China's President Xi Jinping, highlighting China's potential as the only deterrent to Russian aggression. This perspective underscores the importance of maintaining dialogue with China to support Ukraine and demonstrate opposition to Russia's territorial ambitions. The discussion reflects a strategic approach to China, advocating for engagement and cooperation to leverage China's influence in moderating Russia's aggressive stance in Europe and beyond.

Under both scenarios, it is clear that Finland's relations with China will be shaped by a complex interplay of economic interests, human rights concerns, and global geopolitical shifts. Both Haavisto and Stubb recognise the importance of balancing national interests with broader international dynamics. However, their distinct perspectives and approaches suggest that the future of Finland-China relations could vary significantly depending on who assumes the presidency. 

Whichever way the election swings, it is evident that Finland's next president will play a crucial role in navigating the challenges and opportunities presented by China, and other global powers. The world is moving fast towards a multipolar period of history, while Finland is moving to the west.