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Koizumi Cabinet E-mail Magazine No. 249 (September 14, 2006)

[Lion Heart -- Message from Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi]
(Provisional Translation)

Prime Minister Junichiro KoizumiProfile Japanese

Visit to Finland

Junichiro Koizumi here.

I visited Finland from the end of last week until Tuesday of this week, September 12, and attended the Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM) convened in the capital of Helsinki.

ASEM, inaugurated to further the dialogue and cooperation between Asia and Europe, celebrated its 10th anniversary this year. Altogether the leaders of 38 nations and one international organization gathered for this summit: 13 nations from Asia, which were Japan, China, the Republic of Korea, and members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN); and the 25 members of European Union (EU) and the European Commission from Europe.

At the outset of the summit which started on the afternoon of Sunday, September 10, I stressed that the international community must engage in concerted efforts to tackle internationally widespread issues irreconcilable with the principles of humanity, notably terrorism, nuclear proliferation, and piracy.

Furthermore, I underscored that the North Korean abduction issue is a serious issue that the international community must address in cooperation.

For two days until the evening of Monday, September 11, including the working dinner of the first day and the working lunch the next day, intensive discussions continued on a wide range of topics from intercultural and interfaith dialogue, energy and the environment to economic issues and science and technology policy.

On the fringes of the sessions, I had individual meetings with Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero of Spain and Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung of Vietnam. On Saturday, September 9, the day before ASEM began, President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo of the Philippines and I signed an economic partnership agreement (EPA) between Japan and the Philippines. The agreement covers liberalization of trade, acceptance of workers from the respective country, and many more.

Most of the participants of ASEM were indeed leaders I have met on repeated occasions. President Jacques Chirac of France, Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra of Thailand, and Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi of Malaysia were among the many whom I had on this occasion a chance to speak with briefly, which made for a very entertaining and stimulating conversation.

Prime Minister Matti Vanhanen and President Tarja Halonen of Finland, the country which currently holds the EU presidency and was the host of this summit, were the first leaders I met after arriving in Helsinki.

Finland is the home of Santa Claus and Moomin and recently is famous for its prospering high-tech industry led by the cellular phone industry. I personally most strongly associate Finland as the home of one of my favorite composers, Jean Sibelius.

After Prime Minister Vanhanen and I had our meeting, the Prime Minister himself kindly showed me around Ainola, Sibelius' home in the suburbs of Helsinki where he lived and composed countless masterpieces.

At Ainola, a local youth string quartet played lovely music for me. Sibelius is perhaps well-known for composing Finlandia, long considered Finland's second national anthem, though his repertoire also includes Symphonies No. 1 through 7, all of which I have. I enjoy his violin concertos too.

"You are more knowledgeable about Sibelius than the people of Finland" was what Prime Minister Vanhanen said to me, but the pieces performed by the string quartet were new to my ear. It was truly entrancing, to have been able to listen to a piece of one of my favorite composers that I had not known about, and so unexpectedly.

I enjoyed a tranquil and serene moment standing in front of Sibelius' house that is nestled in a quiet forest, as I thought about how his countless masterpieces arose from this kind of soothing ambience.

Learning that Helsinki has numerous nuclear shelters, I requested to visit them and was kindly given a tour. A control room located 50 meters underground is prepared for crises around the clock. In addition, there are evacuation facilities for 800,000 people including shelters in 56 locations and private facilities. At one of these I drove into an underground tunnel, which leads to a vast open space, normally used as a sports facility as well as for other purposes.

There is the saying "always be prepared and there is nothing to worry about." Preparedness of this level, however, was surely impressive. It gave me a stronger awareness that there is much to learn about crisis management.

On the morning of Saturday, September 9, as the cold rain fell lightly, I visited Suomenlinna Island in the inlet of the Gulf of Finland. The fort built in the 18th century is a World Heritage site.

There was an Urasenke tatami tearoom contained in the stonewalls of a weather-beaten fort, and I enjoyed the tea made by a Finnish gentleman in kimono.

I picked up a small stone, perhaps a piece that fell off the castle wall. With permission I brought it back to Japan as a memento. It may be a pebble like any other. For me, this stone, the one I picked up at this World Heritage site in Finland, the place of my last official overseas visit, has become a deeply memorable gem.

* The title of this column "Lion Heart" is a reference to the Prime Minister's lion-like hairstyle and his unbending determination to advance structural reform.

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After their meeting, Prime Minister Vanhanen of Finland escorted Prime Minister Koizumi to observe Ainola, the home of composer Jean Sibelius.

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General Editor: Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi
Chief Editor: Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Jinen Nagase
Publication: Cabinet Public Relations Office
1-6-1 Nagata-cho, Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo 100-8968, Japan

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