Welcome speech by Janar Holm, Auditor General of the Republic of Estonia, at the official meeting with Mrs Song Yijia, Deputy Auditor General of the People’s Republic of China, on 15 July 2019

Janar Holm | 7/15/2019 | 2:00 PM

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Honourable Deputy Auditor General Mrs Song Yijia,
dear members of the Chinese delegation,
dear colleagues,

It is a great honour and pleasure for me to welcome our guests from the People’s Republic of China – the honourable Deputy Auditor General and Chief Inspector Song Yijia and members of the Chinese delegation – in the Estonian National Audit Office.

Estonia will never forget that the People’s Republic of China was among the first countries to recognise the Republic of Estonia after the restoration of our independence in 1991. The People’s Republic of China also supported Estonia in the UN Security Council when we demanded that Russia withdraw its troops as quickly as possible. Fate has been exceptionally kind to Estonia and now, Estonia as a small country has become a temporary member of the UN Security Council itself. Learning more about the experience of China as a permanent member of the Security Council is a priceless development opportunity for Estonia.

The relationships of Estonia and China over the last 30 years have been characterised by mutual respect. Estonia has always supported the One-China Policy and Chinese officials and diplomats have repeatedly confirmed that China respects the political choices of Estonia.

We’ve been pragmatically developing our cooperation that benefits both parties and been trustworthy partners to each other.

However, we know that each and every one of us, whether as countries or people, live our lives in our own ways and none of these lives are exactly the same. We’re not standard. Not as people or as countries. The dimensions are also different.

The area of the People’s Republic of China is 212 times bigger than the area of Estonia. The number of people living in China is about a thousand times bigger than the population of Estonia. Our country is so small that all of us would fit into a district of your city Shanghai and Mrs Song Yijia, who has worked in that city for a long time, knows very well. That’s the difference. There is no globe where China is nothing but a small dot. Not in terms of area or influence.

Thus – our countries and people are very different in terms of size, language, culture and history. But we also have a lot in common – we both love living in peace and are proud of our countries and cultures. And we both – China and Estonia – are ambitious and innovative.

People in Estonia have been observing the astonishingly rapid development of the Chinese economy and the country’s rise to one of the leading economic and political powers in the world. However, we also know that the Chinese Government is making efforts to reduce the threat to the environment caused by rapid economic development, especially when we consider the global climate change.

The environment – clean air, clean water, survival of forests – is a topic whether Estonia is pleased to cooperate with China and share its experience, which we gained when we led the largest working group of the INTOSAI – the Working Group on Environmental Auditing – from 2007 to 2013. The National Audit Office of the People’s Republic of China was then a member of the leadership committee of the working group and heading the activities of the Working Group on Environmental Auditing of the Asian organisation ASOSAI. We remember the great cooperation with our Chinese colleagues and I highly appreciate the attempts of the Chinese National Audit Office in auditing the area of the environment. Environmental issues are the ones that have repeatedly brought our people together. The Estonian National Audit Office has been leading the Working Group on Environmental Auditing of the European Organisation of Supreme Audit Institutions EUROSAI since 2014.

My predecessors in the office of Auditor General have had the honour to visit China several times and the Estonian National Audit Office has had the pleasure to welcome guests from the Chinese National Audit Office. Communication between our institutions was given a boost in 2002, when our Chinese colleagues visited us to learn about the experience of Estonia that they could use after China joined the World Trade Organisation in late 2001.

The terrible earthquake that struck the city of Chengdu in China's Sichuan province in 2008, which killed over 100,000 people, touched the hearts of people all over the world and also in the Estonian National Audit Office. Chengdu is the city where the environmental auditing seminar of the ASOSAI was supposed to take place in spring 2008. The tragedy was felt personally by Liu Jiayi, who was the Auditor General of China at the time and is now a member of the Central Committee, as he had worked in Chengdu for years. Auditors from all over the world remembered the victims of the earthquake in autumn 2008 in Hangzhou and among them was the Estonian Auditor General Mihkel Oviir as the president of the INTOSAI Working Group on Environmental Auditing. This earthquake showed once again how powerless we are against the terrifying force of nature despite our technological development.

A few years later, in 2011, the Estonian National Audit Office was pleased to welcome the environmental auditors of the Chinese National Audit Office, who received an overview of our performance audit process and the organisation of environmental protection and international cooperation over a week.

Honourable Deputy Auditor General Mrs Song Yijia, dear guests and colleagues!

Whilst Estonia and China cannot be compared in terms of area, population and many other parameters, we are united by an organisation where area and population do not matter. All members are equal and skills and knowledge are the only things that count. This is the International Organisation of Supreme Audit Institutions, i.e. INTOSAI, which works under the auspices of the UN: The motto of this organisation in Latin is Experientia mutua omnibus prodest, which means mutual experience benefits all.

That’s why we’re here today, two countries, two organisations, to share our experiences. These experiences are equally valuable and mutually beneficial, even though the history of auditing in China is already 3,000 years old, it’s roots go back to the days of the Western Zhou dynasty. We know very little about Estonian history of the time and what we do know is based on archaeological finds. These finds only illustrate primitive farming and hunting.

Now, 3,000 years later, the message we receive from the area of farming in our countries are completely different – the Estonian Minister of Agriculture met with the Chinese Minister of Agriculture and they did not talk about different ways of ploughing. What they talked about was the digitalisation of agriculture. Three or four decades ago, people in Estonia as well as China would’ve looked at each other in confusion if a topic like that had been mentioned. In Estonia, people would’ve said that digitalisation is like the Chinese language. Namely, the expression “the Chinese language” is used in Estonia to characterise something that seems totally incomprehensible.

However, times change quickly and digital literacy, the skill of understanding this digital “Chinese language”, has become a necessity in today’s world of information technology. I already spoke about our cooperation in auditing important environmental topics in the world and the key to solving many problems lies in the implementation of information technology solutions and the digitalisation of the economy and society. A couple of months ago, the Estonian Prime Minister emphasised at the summit between Central and Eastern Europen countries and China held in Dubrovnik, Croatia, that in the economic relations between Europe and China, it is important to guarantee respect for intellectual ownership and equal opportunities for the entrepreneurs of both regions on local markets, and considering cyber security in the area of rapidly developing digital connections and e-commerce is also important. It is important to Estonia to maintain the dialogue with China about digital security and internet freedom to guarantee an open, secure, stable and accessible cyber space.

Both supreme audit institutions can contribute to the development of the digital society of our countries and people. The Estonian National Audit Office is already a member of the EUROSAI Working Group on Information Technology and its e-governance team. In 2020 the National Audit Office will apply to lead the EUROSAI Working Group on IT Auditing.

I’m very pleased that the Chinese delegation includes specialists with whom the information technology auditors of the Estonian National Audit Office can discuss the use of big data and how the opportunities offered by information technology can be put to better use in auditing.

The universal language of the digital world unites countries and people. But mutual communication in the digital world will not become less important because of this. Quite the reverse. Mutual understanding between people creates the preconditions for everything else, it is the foundation for our relationships. Almost 15 years ago, an Estonian writer published a book about his travels in China and summed his experience up with the thought that even though some people write in different characters and letters, their smiles still have the same meaning.

I am pleased to finish my speech with this beautiful thought and thank you again for visiting Estonia and the Estonian National Audit Office.

  • Posted: 7/15/2019 2:00 PM
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