I have felt a certain protective affection for Finland since, many years ago, I was one of the faculty advisers to the Hong Kong Baptist University team at a Model UN. Teams participating in these things are allocated a country each to represent, and we drew Finland.

My fellow adviser did the current issues and topics and the UN procedure, leaving me with the more pleasant task of introducing our team to Finland’s history and culture, on which the local consulate was very helpful.

File photo: Pikrepo.

This was just as well because like most people I knew very little about Finland. During my war studies period, it was held up as a bad example: “Finlandisation” was a rather pejorative label stuck on countries which were “Not Standing Up to the Russians” enough to please the members of NATO, of which organisation Finland was not and is not a member.

Apart from that, Finland was a source of hot racing drivers with names whose spelling was a problem for the Sports Desk, the origin of the sauna, and one of the three countries claiming to be the home of Father Christmas.

So it was a pleasure to discover that it had in fact a fascinating history. Being so far north it was for a long time barely habitable. I understand Finnish historians no longer believe that it was completely empty in cold climate periods, but certainly the climate rules out the sort of farming conducted in temperate areas, and the inhabitants traditionally survived by herding, hunting and trapping.

The south of Finland, where most of life happens, is littered with lakes. This makes it quite unsuitable for conventional warfare, which consequently took place in the winter when the climate is extremely hostile but the lakes freeze hard enough to carry men and horses. Finns are a tough bunch. They were already notorious for this in the 17th century when they supplied most of Gustavus Adolphus’s cavalry.

The language is a puzzle. Its only European relative is Hungarian. The music is pleasing and relies heavily on a sort of horizontal harp.

Lappeenranta, Finland. File photo: Wikicommons.

In other ways, Finland is recognisably Nordic: parliamentary democracy, the welfare state, rule of law, all that sort of thing. So how did it arouse the ire of Mr Grenville Cross, who has accused it of weakening global justice, no less?

Finland is among the growing number of countries which have cancelled or suspended extradition treaties with Hong Kong since the arrival of the national security law. You can argue about the need for this. Most extradition treaties exclude political offences, many of them exclude offences which are not criminal in the country from which the suspect is to be extradited, and in any case, if an application looks suspicious extradition can be refused, treaty or no treaty.

But this is not enough for Mr Cross, who spins a glorious conspiracy theory in which the national security law is a mere pretext, and what is really happening is that Finland is going along with a campaign against China waged by the US.

This starts with a joint statement last year to mark the 100th anniversary of diplomatic ties (Finland was not a country before 1919) by the two presidents. This, as is customary on such occasions, included such platitudes as “our relationship is stronger than ever… exceptionally strong cooperation… tackling common challenges” and so forth.

Then we are told that “Given Finland’s strategic location as Russia’s neighbour, the US has decided to ramp up its involvement there and to woo its leaders,” for which the only evidence we are offered is a meeting on July 3 between the US Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, and his Finnish counterpart Pekka Haavisto (you see what I mean about the interesting spelling).

Photo: GovHK.

A mere ten days later, says Mr Cross, Mr Haavisto “announced that the extradition treaty will no longer be applied.” Actually, he did not. What he said on July 13 was that the treaty “should not” be applied, a statement of opinion about what was desirable and not a legal abrogation of the treaty.

In fact, it remained in force until October 16, when the president of Finland announced its suspension.

People who know their Finnish history will need a good deal more than this to convince them that there are any ulterior motives at work here.

Finland’s experience in the first half of the 20th century was as unhappy as everyone else’s but in a different way. In the winter of 1939, they were subjected to a Russian invasion.

The two obvious possible sources of help, France and the UK, were already at war with Hitler and ducked. Sweden was determinedly neutral. The Germans had just divided Poland with the Russians pursuant to the freshly signed Nazi-Soviet pact. So the Finns were on their own, and after a stirring defence were compelled to cede a large swathe of territory to the Soviet Union.

When Hitler invaded Russia in 1941, the Finns took the chance to resume their war with the Russians and take back the lost territory, along with some earlier concessions. After the defeat of the German invasion, this advance was reversed and in 1944 the Soviets imposed a peace treaty which involved some further concessions.

Finland was then treated as a defeated Axis power, although they had not actually signed up for the Axis, and subjected to an Allied Control Commission, which was mostly Russian. Several Finnish politicians were convicted of “waging aggressive war” and jailed.

Adolf Hitler in Finland in 1942. Photo: Wikicommons.

Finland did not become part of the Warsaw Pact. Nor did it join NATO, or benefit from the Marshall Plan. It did sign a treaty with Moscow pledging to resist any attempt to invade Russia through its territory. During the Cold War, it was emphatically neutral, and no doubt there is something in the suggestion that Finnish leaders took care not to provoke their neighbour to the east.

Finland has nothing to thank “the West” for. The idea that a few honeyed words from Mike Pompeo could turn Finland into some sort of American puppet is inaccurate and insulting.

Curiously Mr Cross concedes the point cited by Mr Haavisto as justifying a suspension of the extradition agreement. The national security law does, he says, allow “circumstances in which people accused of violating national security can be tried on the mainland.” But this can “only occur in exceptional circumstances.”

Well, exceptional circumstances have a way of coming up sooner or later, and countries which take their obligations seriously will adjust their arrangements accordingly. Admirers of the national security law need to get their heads around the fact that Hong Kong now no longer meets the standards to which countries enjoying the rule of law aspire.

Blaming the growing number of countries which take this view (Ireland, another compulsive neutral, suspended its extradition treaty with Hong Kong last week) on an American conspiracy is just as stupid as blaming the Covid-19 outbreak on a Chinese laboratory.


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Tim Hamlett

Tim Hamlett came to Hong Kong in 1980 to work for the Hong Kong Standard and has contributed to, or worked for, most of Hong Kong's English-language media outlets, notably as the editor of the Standard's award-winning investigative team, as a columnist in the SCMP and as a presenter of RTHK's Mediawatch. In 1988 he became a full-time journalism teacher. Since officially retiring nine years ago, he has concentrated on music, dance, blogging and a very time-consuming dog.