China's President Xi Jinping, on the way to his eagerly awaited first encounter with Donald Trump, met his Finnish counterpart in Helsinki Wednesday, extending Beijing's famed "panda diplomacy" to Finland.
The two sides agreed to carry out "cooperative panda research" and "make the pandas messengers of friendship between our two countries," Xi said at a joint press conference in Helsinki.
The first visit by a Chinese leader to Finland since 1995 marks the 100th anniversary of the Nordic country's independence and Finns were pleased to learn that a pair of giant pandas were expected in Finland before the end of the year.
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.
"We know that pandas are a national treasure for China and we will honour and value them," President Sauli Niinisto told Xi.
China is Finland's fifth largest trading partner and Xi said the two sides would "expand cooperation in such areas as innovation-driven development, green development and coordinated development."
Xi said China appreciated "Finland's firm commitment to the one-China policy", which Niinisto confirmed in his own address to the media.
After Helsinki, Xi was due to continue his journey across the Atlantic to Florida, where US President Trump awaits him on Thursday with a much tougher stance on trade and China's problematic relationship with Taiwan than the friendly Nordic country had.
Trump had previously infuriated Beijing with suggestions he might break from the US's long-standing One China Policy, which nominally acknowledges the Asian giant's claims over Taiwan without recognising them.
In Helsinki, Xi refused to take any questions from the media and did not comment on the upcoming meeting with Trump in his speech.
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.