This year Iceland celebrates its centenary as a sovereign nation. This is an auspicious moment to reflect on the road we have taken and where we are headed.
One of our most valuable lessons relates to the importance of free trade, efficient transportation and communication with other countries for growing prosperity. For a small island state, in the middle of the North Atlantic, it is of paramount importance to maintain close relations with its neighbors. At the same time, we must develop and cultivate friendly relations and trade with new partners further abroad.
China is on the other side of the globe. Contacts between our countries were sporadic until the establishment of diplomatic relations in 1971. In recent years, we have deepened our political and commercial ties with China through regular consultations and cooperation.
We have strengthened our cultural links and seen joint business ventures come to fruition. Our people-to-people contacts have expanded rapidly with Chinese tourists visiting Iceland in greater numbers. Both of our major airlines have shown keen interest in direct flights between China and Iceland－and possibly some Chinese airlines are thinking on the same lines.
We welcome this development and are determined to strengthen our relations with China still further. This is the main reason for my visit to Beijing this month.
In 2013, Iceland became the first country in Europe to conclude a free trade agreement with China. This milestone agreement has been a catalyst for increased trade between Iceland and China. It still has untapped potential, which we are eager to exploit. I am convinced that the addition of new seafood species and other categories of products will further increase our bilateral trade. Various agreements and cooperation between Iceland and China show the extent and breadth of our cooperation, including Arctic cooperation, geothermal energy utilization, scientific cooperation and culture.
Next year, Iceland assumes the chairmanship of the Arctic Council, where China has an observer status. It will also spearhead Nordic cooperation in times of increasing Nordic-Chinese relations. Iceland recently took a seat in the United Nations Human Rights Council where we look forward to cooperating with China. Iceland, like China, was a founding member of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank. Here, and in other multilateral forums, we could still further our mutual understanding and cooperation.
I am pleased to note the importance that China attaches to environmental issues. We are impressed by China's commitments, both nationally and internationally, to address climate change and its strong support to the Paris Agreement. Here, I believe Iceland and China can cooperate even more closely together, not least through the utilization of geothermal resources, where Iceland has valuable expertise to offer.
In a nutshell, the relations between Iceland and China are good and based on mutual respect and solid cooperation. This allows for our relations to develop and prosper.
My government follows carefully and with interest the Belt and Road Initiative, including the "Silk Road on Ice", which is focused on opening up new shipping routes through the Arctic. Iceland supports its objectives to enhance connectivity between Europe and Asia. We agree that increased flow of people, businesses, capital and technologies will bring benefit to all. We are confident that our relations will continue to develop in this direction, including through our current bilateral arrangements.
Iceland is linked with neighbouring economies in the North Atlantic through extensive communications network. As an island state, our communications network is based on shipping, air traffic and optical fiber cables. Further connections to other regions are of obvious interest to my country. Iceland approaches the Belt and Road Initiative with an open mind, observing how it continues to take shape and develop.
I look forward to visiting China.
The article was first published in China Daily on 6 September 2018