China's President Xi Jinping, on the way to his eagerly awaited first encounter with Donald Trump, met his Finnish counterpart in Helsinki Wednesday, saying there was "great potential" for future bilateral trade ties.
The Chinese leader's first visit to Finland since 1995 marks the Nordic country's 100th anniversary of independence.
"Over the past 67 years of diplomatic ties, the China-Finland relationship has enjoyed steady and sound growth despite the changing international landscape," Xi said in a statement late Tuesday after arriving in Helsinki.
China is Finland's fifth largest trading partner and Xi said he saw "great space and potential for further economic cooperation and trade".
Ahead of Xi's and Sauli Niinisto's official encounter on Wednesday, Finns were hoping Xi would make Finland the next destination for Beijing's famed "panda diplomacy".
Finnish and Chinese officials have been in lengthy talks over China leasing a pair of giant pandas to Ahtari zoo in central Finland, where the construction of a new panda cage costing more than eight million euros (over $8.5 million) is well underway.
After Helsinki, Xi was due to continue his journey across the Atlantic to Florida, where trade discussions with US President Trump on Thursday were expected to be tougher than in the friendly Nordic country.
Trump has warned talks with Xi will be "very difficult" and accused China during his campaign of stealing American jobs and industry.
US Commerce Department data showed Tuesday that the US deficit with China gained $1.6 billion to $31.7 billion in February.