Estonia and China build ties

  • 2000-04-27
  • By Jaclyn M. Sindrich
TALLINN - Few countries may be as different from Estonia than China, but from many indications, relations between one of the tiniest and one of the most populous nations on earth are blossoming.

During the past two months alone, three Chinese parliamentarians have come to discuss investment opportunities with the economics and finance ministries, and another delegation from the Chinese head prosecutor's office arrived to sign a cooperation agreement with the Estonian prosecutor's office.

Last week, Tallinn City council announced it would send its chairman, Rein Voog, on a week-long visit to China at the end of August to broaden contacts and invigorate cultural awareness.

"The Chinese know very little about Estonia," said the City Council's adviser, Merilin Randvee. Voog will also look at Shanghai's expanding region to gather ideas for Tallinn's future annexation, she said.

According to the Foreign Ministry, Estonia has always supported China's wishes to remain unified, while the Asian country has been consistenly supportive of Estonia's wish to join the European Union and respectful of its political choices.

The friendship, so far, has evinced itself for the past several years in a Chinese sponsorship of an exchange program for Estonian students to learn Chinese and Chinese students to learn Estonian at Tallinn Pedagogical University and Concordia International University.

China also donated several hundred books, hosted an Estonian photography exhibit as well as a folk and dance group.

Neither country has ignored the potential for capitalizing on the other's economic boom. A group of Estonian businesspeople will tag along on Voog's cultural exhange trip to seek possible investment opportunities in Beijing and Shanghai.

Although no current Estonian entrepreneurship exists in the Asian nation, direct Chinese investments in the Baltic nation already stand at 14.1 million kroons, of which 10.8 million are in wholesale and retail.

Since Estonia and China established diplomatic relations in 1991, trade between the two partners has increased steadily, albeit one-sidedly. Last year, Chinese imports, largely machinery and textiles, amounted to 546 million kroons, 12 times greater than Estonian exports. Still, from 1995 to 1999, exports to China - mainly consisting of dairy products, metals and plastics - have nearly tripled, to 44.7 million kroons.

The disparity can be explained by communist China's markets, which traditionally have not been open to foreign investments.

Chinese Ambassador, Zou Mingrong, noted, however, that times change, and China is now the ninth largest trading country in the world.

"I don't think political and ideological differences are a barrier to trade," he said.

Indeed, the Foreign Ministry has said joint venture projects with a Chinese wholesaler are feasible. At the countries' biannual meetings between their respective economic commissions, topics dominating the discussion concern transport, transit, logistics and the sale of fish products.

Mingrong said that the physical distance between the two countries and transport difficulties necessarily limit trading, but the supportive relationship should not be taken lightly. "There is a saying in China, that if we want to do business, we've got to make friends first. In China, we believe we can trust friends - even in business."