Silence is Golden? Finnish-Chinese relations and freedom of speech in historical and Nordic context

Research output: Other conference contributionAbstractScientific


The Nordic countries have been very successful in international indexes measuring press freedom. However, these relatively similar democratic societies nurturing freedom of speech in their media systems have ended up in very different relationships with the rising world power, China. Both Denmark and Norway have had diplomatic disputes with China during the last decade and there has been tension between China and Sweden for several years now. The new all-time low of Chinese-Swedish relationship was in November 2019 after the Swedish Minister of Culture awarded a freedom of speech prize to a Swedish national detained by the Chinese authorities. Meanwhile, Finland with its more pragmatic-mercantilist policies has never had any disagreement with China (Kallio 2018).
This paper will examine how the Nordic countries can have so different approaches towards the freedom of speech in their international policies and especially in their relationship with China, as they all have been supposed to share the same regional tradition and values in their domestic policies. Sweden (including present-day Finland) adopted a constitution providing freedom of expression already in 1766 and Syvertsen et al. (2014) have argued that at least in the 20th century, all parliamentary Nordic governments have respected editorial independence of the media in peacetime.
However, in the Republic of Finland the development of freedom of speech has been anything but a continuous process of improvement (Neuvonen 2018). Even if we would set aside the wartime censorship, the post-war process of Finlandization and self-censorship of the press (Salminen 1999) cannot not be neglected. In the late 1940s, the Finnish government openly encouraged the press to become its own censor, so that the state would not have to take any action. Just in case, the public disparagement of a foreign state was criminalized in 1948 and this section of the law was not repealed until 1991.
This study is a comparative analysis of the five Nordic countries with the main emphasis on Finland and the three Scandinavian countries, using the methods of history research and qualitative document analysis. Our data will consist of earlier studies on the Finnish and Nordic history of freedom speech as well as policy documents and media coverage.
While the political pressure on the Finnish media gradually decreased, the demand for continuing self-censorship became increasingly economically motivated. Still in the 1980s the Finnish political and economic elite was afraid of upsetting the Soviet Union because Finland was so dependent on the trade with it. In this context, it is more understandable why the Finnish media was later not using of its freedom to the full extent while covering the giant of the communications industry located in Finland, Nokia (Wiberg 2006; Lindén 2016) and why Finnish businessmen visiting in Beijing now expect Finnish media to promote their businesses without upsetting the Chinese government (Manninen 2019).
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages16
Publication statusPublished - 8 Sept 2021
Publication typeNot Eligible
EventECREA: Communication and trust: building safe, sustainable and promising futures - Online
Duration: 6 Sept 20219 Sept 2021


Internet address


  • Freedom of speech
  • FInland
  • China
  • Nordic countries


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