While Finnair is about to restart direct flights between Helsinki and Singapore Finland’s current ambassador to this Southeast-Asian hub country is preparing to leave back to the head quarters of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Finland. Satu Mattila’s first stint on a foreign posting as Ambassador will be over this coming summer and her next position will be “something” in the very exotic place called Helsinki since she has had two in a row overseas.
Slowly she is preparing herself for the move back to the home country, somewhat reluctantly, one can sense. At the same time she is looking forward to new challenges, and also to be posted again in another country in a couple of years’ time.
Though, she got married with a Finnish man in Helsinki while at the helm in Singapore so it must also be a nice homecoming!
She is certainly comfortable having an international kind of career and joined the Foreign Ministry since she was interested in international affairs, she tells ScandAsia when looking back at her fruitful years in Singapore.
Also this is not her first stint in Asia; in fact the Ambassador started her career in New Delhi already back in the 1980’s as a “very young diplomat”.
“Later I served in Washington DC and Tokyo as Minister of Counselor. To Singapore I came from Geneva where I have been posted twice, working a lot with multilateral issues at the permanent mission of Finland to the UN.”
“I studied history of art among other issues and if I hadn’t joined the Foreign Service most probably I would have continued my studies overseas, but I was accepted to the ministry.”
Asia more and more significant
As to her previous experience of Asia Ambassador Satu explains that she did not know Singapore very well, only that it was a very advanced country with a very open economy and that the relation with Finland was mainly related to trade.
“I hadn’t even visited Singapore before I came here. Some people say that Singapore is rather sterile, my first impression was positive. It’s green, and growing very fast. In Finland the importance of Singapore is not fully realized, but I think that due to trade and the potential for cooperation we have it is now better understood.
“Asia as a whole is becoming more and more significant; the growth is here. In that context it is important that Asia is not only China and India. There is also South-East Asia,” the Ambassador explains and points out that the EU is now also finalizing the negotiations for an FTA with Singapore.
“It’s an important step. I think there are many interesting issues going on and I like following these regional developments, of course with Singapore being a member of ASEAN and what’s going on here, within economics and also from a security point of view.”
Settling down in the Lion City ambassador Satu Mattila found that it is an easy place to live in.
“Singapore is small but very dynamic; there are many things happening here. And also, from the cultural point of view it’s getting more and more interesting. And I hear from people who have lived here longer that it has really changed during the past ten years.”
Milestones and events
Ambassador Satu is very interested in culture. The embassy cannot do much in that field, but there have been a few highlights connecting to Finland during her time.
“The Finnish National Ballet was invited to the Singapore Arts Festival; that was a big event. This year we are supporting some Finnish painters coming for the Singapore Biennale 2011.”
“One project we’ve had was an exhibition in the autumn 2007 on Alvar Aalto at the NUS Museum followed by the 75th anniversary celebration of his iconic stool in 2008. In connection with that we created a Singapore edition of the Stool 60. This stool was in the exhibition in Singapore.”
This stool was upholstered with red Marimekko fabric with dark red dots representing the vibrancy and creativity of Singapore.”
The famous architect and designer was then studied by the first year students of NUS Department of Architecture and as a follow-up these students created their own models and constructions of the stool.
Some of the milestones have been the high level visits. President of Finland visited Singapore in February 2008 with a business delegation; and the Prime Minister in 2009.
“And then President S. R. Nathan paid a state visit to Finland in October last year. Besides the official programme, he also attended the inaugural event of the Singapore-Finnish Association. Around 120 Singaporeans live in Finland, surprisingly enough, so there’s now this new association.”
Most of the Singaporeans living in Finland are studying in the country’s higher educational institutions.
More resources for trade promotion
As for some new business developments the Ambassador highlights Kemira Oyj.
“Last year, Kemira started research cooperation with NTU, Nanyang Technological University, in the field of water purification and also entered into a strategic alliance with the Public Utility Board. There’s a lot of potential for cooperation in R&D. And Finland’s Tekes and VTT, the Technical Research Center of Finland have cooperation with A Star funding the research here.”
Based on an MOU, Tekes, the Finnish Funding Agency for Technology and Innovation and Singapore’s Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*STAR) promote R&D and scientific collaboration in strategic technology areas between the two countries
The MOU provides the opportunity for Singapore public sector researchers and scientists from Finnish universities and research institutes to jointly develop technologies of national interests through three annual calls for proposals and to participate in joint seminars and symposia to share the latest scientific information and materials.
“Cleantech is one field where Singapore and Finland could have much more cooperation. I am trying to encourage Finnish companies to attend for example the Singapore International Water Week. We have a lot of knowledge within water technology,” says the Ambassador.
Despite that Finpro (Finland’s global expert network for promoting the growth and competitiveness of Finnish companies through internationalization) changed its operational model a year ago the Ambassador is satisfied with the present cooperation, although much more resources would be needed for trade promotion.
“Finpro closed down in Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur and Singapore but we are lucky that the same person who was their representative earlier has continued as a partner and we have a good collaboration.”
A final word goes to the promising relationship with the two countries.
“There are many similarities between Singapore and Finland; we are both small by population and our natural resources are limited, even more so in Singapore. We both have to focus on education and innovations in order to stay competitive. Both are open economies, very foreign-–trade related, so there is a lot of room for further cooperation. Santa Claus is well-known here in Singapore. Finland is no longer successful in the Formula One, but Singaporeans used to know the F1 drivers. I hope that tourism will grow both ways once Finnair will start direct flights between Helsinki and Singapore in the end of May.