Interview with Ambassador in China Daily

Envoy eager to make impression for Iceland

The very name of her country can send chills down spines, but Kristin A. Arnadottir says she's been pleased to find that Iceland is well-known in China as a geothermal center as well as for its Nordic cold.

"We want to be known not just for ice, but for green," she says. "An environmentally healthy nation with very creative people, a rich cultural heritage and a young, vibrant population."

The country has a population of about 320,000 and a total area of 103,000 square kilometers. In the past few months, Chinese citizens got to learn more about Iceland, thanks to cultural events surrounding last year's 40th anniversary of diplomatic relations between Beijing and Reykjavik.

"We were able to present a collection of books translated into Chinese at an exhibition at Peking University, and we had Icelandic authors for the first time at the Bookworm's International Literary Festival in Beijing and in Chengdu. We will make that a tradition," says Arnadottir. The embassy is bringing crime writer Yrsa Sigurdardottir for the Bookworm's 2012 festival later this week.

A recent travel program on CCTV also brought new awareness of Iceland as a tourist destination. "There is no direct flight from China, but there are good connections via Finnair and SAS. You can be in a steaming spa in Reykjavik in 12-14 hours!"

The number of Chinese tourists in Iceland was up 70 percent last year, from 5,000 to about 9,000.

The ambassador says she represents a friendly people that has never had an army.

"The only 'war' was the Cod War with Britain over fishing rights in the 1960s and 1970s, when we successfully extended our exclusive fishing zones."

At the University of Iceland, there has been a Confucius Institute for almost five years. The Chinese ambassador in Iceland, Su Ge, gives lectures there regularly. Other speakers include students, entrepreneurs and business leaders.

And while there are more Chinese students in Iceland than the other way around, "last year we had 16 students studying Icelandic at Beijing Foreign Language University, and it was a great success - even though it's an old language and hard to learn."

In the business arena, she says, geothermal and other green energies are key industries in Sino-Icelandic trade.

"This is not new," she says. "Almost 90 Chinese scientists and officials have been to study at the United Nations University's geothermal program in Iceland. There are partnerships with both entrepreneurs and Sinopec, the strongest player in the field.

"We say Chinese house-heating by geothermal can surpass that market in Iceland, where we have the world's largest geothermal plant."

She notes that Shaanxi Green Energy, a joint venture of the two countries, already provides 5 million square meters of heated space annually for Chinese citizens.

There are now about 200 Icelanders working in China, she says.

"There used to be more when our banking industry was strong, but since the international financial crisis, that number has fallen."

The country's biggest footprints in China today are in Hong Kong and Shanghai, where CCP makes the award-winning computer game Eve on Line, and Ossur markets prosthetic limbs from its Asia headquarters. Among those helped by Ossur prosthetics: victims of the devastating earthquakes in Sichuan province in 2008.

Arnadottir is eager to see more of China this spring as she begins her third year here. She has enjoyed visiting Datong, with its hanging monasteries and Buddha caves, and Yunnan province.

"I'm quite fond of Yunnan cuisine," she says. "Yunnan has wonderful glaciers, too, so that felt a bit like home.

"Winter is part of our culture," she says, smiling. "There is something reassuring about looking out the window of a warm house, and our houses are very warm thanks to the cheap geothermal energy.

"Winter days are very short, but the snow makes the winter bright and light."

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