Marking the 65th anniversary of Thai-Finnish diplomatic relations, HE Mrs Satu Suikkari-Kleven, Finland's Ambassador to Thailand, sat down with Elite+ at her stylish residence on Sukhumvit Road to talk about the prosperous, cordial relationship between Finland and Thailand and travel tips to the Land of the Thousand Lakes. Thailand recognized Finland way back in 1919 and then established official relations with your country in 1954. What was the nature of the two countries’ relationship before the official tie?
The first diplomatic meeting between the two countries took place in October 1919, when one of the first Finnish diplomats, Mr Ramstedt, was sent to Bangkok to express the appreciation of the Finnish government for the recognition of our independence. It was a memorable event for Mr Ramstedt who had the opportunity to meet HRH Prince Devavongse, who was the Foreign Minister at that time and later recognized as the father of Thai diplomacy.
I have been going through historic archives of Finnish newspapers all the way back to the 1800s to see how the Kingdom of Siam was portrayed in the Finnish media. I was happy to find quite a number of references to the Kingdom, the first articles dating back to the late 1800s, describing the way of life with pictures of the Royal family, the temples, Buddha statutes and the majestic elephants – all very exotic and fascinating for the Finns. Siam was portrayed in a positive manner, as one of the most advanced countries in the region.
I believe that the first Finnish migrants to Thailand were missionaries who started to arrive in Thailand in the early decades of the 1900s, learning the Thai language and integrating into Thai society. Around the same time, Finnish companies started to see the potential of Thailand as an interesting market area for their products, especially paper and pulp.
- How has the relationship prospered and evolved during the past 65 years?
Throughout the decades, our relations have deepened and expanded to new areas. Today, we have a vibrant Finnish business community in Thailand and many successful partnerships between Finnish and Thai companies. The Finnish Embassy in Thailand is among the biggest Finnish missions in Asia. Student exchange has been going on for decades, and we would love to see it further expanding. Thai berry-pickers have made a great contribution to the
Finnish berry industry. Thailand is among the most popular travel destinations of Finns, and many have found their second home and a family in Thailand. We have active cooperation not only with Thai officials, but also with many civil society actors in different fields such as human rights and gender equality. As you can see, the relations are broad, ranging from people-to-people contacts to fruitful business partnerships, bringing prosperity to both countries.
- It seems trade is an area of focus between Thailand and Finland. Please elaborate on the import and export of the two countries.
There are approximately 50 Finnish companies in Thailand, in addition to which an estimated 150 Finnish companies are represented through an agent. Some of the Finnish products you can spot when walking around in Thailand include Kone elevators and escalators, Marimekko and Moomin products and Suunto watches. Clean tech, renewable energy, circular economy and education are areas where Finnish-Thai cooperation is particularly active.
- How big is the Finnish community in Thailand?
We estimate that there are approximately 2000 Finns living in Thailand more or less permanently and several thousands that spend the Finnish winter months here.
- What are some of the investment opportunities that Thai investors should explore in Finland?
Finland is a very attractive destination for foreign investment. Many of the areas where Finland has world-leading expertise are highly relevant for Thailand as well. Finland is the biggest contributor to innovation per capita and a forerunner in developing digital technologies, bioeconomy, circular economy and clean energy, to name a few. Also, health and wellbeing and the tourism industry offer attractive possibilities. The “Invest in Finland” programme of the Finnish trade promotion agency, Business Finland, offers advice and ideas for prospective investors.
- Finland is also known and revered for excellent education. Is there collaboration between our two countries in education? What can Thailand learn from Finland in this regard?
Education is one of the most active areas of cooperation between our two countries. Finnish education institutions have partnered with Thai universities, training institutes and schools in teacher training, curriculum development and other key areas of education. Numerous Thai delegations from education institutions have visited Finland, and books about Finnish education have been translated into the Thai language. Finnish digital education solutions are popular in Thailand. A Finnish architecture school for kids, Arkki, opened in Bangkok last year, encouraging children to use their creativity and imagination. There are Thai schools that are applying Finnish teaching methods, such as Tonkla school in Chiang Mai and schools in Petchaboon that are supported by the Zero to Hero foundation.
I think the most important principle of the Finnish education system that I would like to see firmly established in Thailand is equality. We believe it is very important that everyone has the right to high quality education irrespective of their place of residence, wealth of the family, background or any other factor. This is a recipe for success and prosperity for any nation.
- Finland is also a very eco-conscious country. Can you think of any practice/plans/policies that Thailand should also consider adopting?
There has been great interest in Thailand for Finnish solutions in circular economy, such as the national road-map for circular economy and practical tools to help SMEs to integrate circular economy principles into their own operations. Also, Finland has created excellent solutions for recycling of materials that make it easy for each individual to participate in the efforts to save natural resources and minimize waste.
When we moved to Bangkok, we wanted to create a waste recycling programme for the building where we are living. Luckily, the management of the building was keen to do so, too, so we have built a good recycling system that motivates the tenants by providing information on how much C02 emissions have been saved by their own apartment through the recycling programme.
- What are some of the future collaborative efforts between Finland and Thailand?
More visits both ways are envisaged in the areas of clean energy, circular economy, education and other fields in the near future. Our aim is to find the best possible partners here in Thailand for the Finnish actors in these fields, and vice versa.
- For a small country with less than 6 million in population, Thailand welcomes a lot of Finns each year. What motivates them to visit Thailand? What do they like most about Thailand?
The sun, the beaches, the amazing island sceneries and the food are among the main attractions. Also, Bangkok draws a lot of Finns with its metropolitan vibe, cultural highlights and restaurant/nightlife scene. More and more Finns have discovered other parts of Thailand as well, in particular the beautiful north, around Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai. Many come to do sports like golf, scuba diving, Thai boxing or hiking in the mountains – or charge their batteries in yoga retreats and the serene spas.
- Please tell us a bit about where you are from in Finland. If you were to give travel tips to Finland, what would you say we should see or do in your home country?
I’m from the capital Helsinki, but my roots are in the Finnish countryside, in Karelia and Savo where my parents originate from. For a summer vacation (June-August), I recommend to visit the lake district in eastern Finland, such as Punkaharju and Savonlinna, with its amazing Opera Festival held in a medieval castle every July-August. Another favourite summer destination is the Turku archipelago with its thousands of green, lush islands. For a winter holiday, I recommend Lapland for its amazing snowy sceneries, the northern lights and exiting winter activities, such as sleigh riding with a reindeer.
- You have been posted in Thailand for a few years now. What is your impression of Thailand and Bangkok? What do you like to do in Bangkok?
When I have family and friends visiting, I take them first for a river day: to the Grand Palace and the temples, for a river cruise on a small boat and other cultural landmarks such as the beautiful Lhong 1919. I also enjoy relaxing in the spas on the weekends and dine in the wonderful restaurants featuring cuisine from different parts of Thailand and other parts of the world.