Leangkollen 03-04 February 2014

For those of you who were not able to attend this year’s Leangkollen conference, we have provided a short summary of this year’s lectures and debates. Many thanks to all of our participants and contributors for making Leangkollen a success!

Opening session at the Nobel Institute

The Norwegian Atlantic Committee’s chairman, Mr Kjell Engebretsen, opened the 49th annual Leangkollen conference entitled “The Rise of East Asia: Implications for Great Power Relations and the Transatlantic Relationship”. Mr Engebretsen noted a shift in the topics of security conferences: From focusing on Afghanistan and the Middle East in the past decade, topics now tend to evolve around the rise of the East.

Following Mr. Engebretsen’s words of welcome, Norwegian Minister of Foreign Affairs Mr Børge Brende entered the podium. In his opening lecture, Mr Brende reflected on how to navigate in a changing world map. Stressing that the rise of the East poses opportunities as well as challenges, Mr Brende highlighted the path of multinational and intergovernmental cooperation. The economic rise of East Asia - China is believed to surpass the US as the #1 world economy by the next decade - gives the West competition, but as Mr Brende said, “There is no contradiction between competition and cooperation.”

Read Mr. Brende's Speech here.

Listen to Mr. Brende's Speech here.


Following Mr Brende was Ms Ellen Laipson, President and CEO of the Stimson centre. In her keynote lecture “The Rise of Asia, US Foreign Policy, and the World”, Ms Laipson analysed America’s role in the new world order. She noted that the US is, and will remain, a key global actor, but that there is a certain global ambivalence toward American world power: Has the US, by over-relying on military strength, made it a point of weakness in global diplomacy? Ms Laipson stressed that the US must find a balance between power and partnership, and that the key to successfully cooperate with East Asia is to set expectations right. 

Listen to Ms. Laipson's Speech here.

Ms Laipson’s lecture was followed by a short Q&A session moderated by the Committee’s Secretary-General, Ms Kate Hansen Bundt. Mr Brende and Ms Laipson answered questions regarding the current situation in Ukraine, nuclear waste, Japan and American war fatigue.
Listen to the Q&A session here.


Session II: The Rise of China and Great Power Relations

After our arrival at a snow-covered Leangkollen, we were delighted to introduce Dr. Michael D. Swaine, Senior Associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, along with Dr. BoboLo, Associate Fellow at the Royal Institute for International Affairs, and Prof. Richard Samuels,Director of the Center for International Studies, MIT.

In his lecture “Sino-American Relations: Rivals or Ripe for Partnership?”, Dr. Michael D. Swaine remarked that there are now higher stakes in the US to get the China policy right. He also pointed out the different views on core values such as free-trade, human rights, state sovereignty, voting power, and the distribution of power in Washington and Beijing. Both sides need to work along these lines to have a stable relationship, and Washington must be able to accommodate China. Dr. Swaine pointed to how China’s increasing involvement within areas such as trade, economy and non-military issues has shifted the global status quo, and that China’s growing military presence in the region is threatening US presence.

Listen to the Swaine's speech here.

Dr. Bobo Lo shared his view on “Sino-Russian Relations: A Russian Pivot to Asia?”.  Dr. Lo argued that security interests are a motive for Russia’s view eastward, and that a Sino-Russian partnership is key for the Kremlin in challenging US global power. Russia aims to enhance its national security, and as China could theoretically pose a future threat to Russia, it is more strategic to become partners. Lo argued that Russia looks to China and Japan because they are great powers, not because they are Asian. Russia’s interest in Asia is also fueled by economic interests, and Japan’s PM Abe’s visit to Russia has sparked new hope of cooperation. Both China and Japan are attractive future consumers of Russian energy exports, and Asia is a growing market for Russian arms export. Although Putin looks to the East, his position is still Western-oriented, and Russia will remain a peripheral player in Asia for decades. As Bo argued, Asia is a supplement, not a replacement for Russian cooperation with the West. Putin wants to portray Russia as an independent power that is neither European, nor Asian.

Read Dr. Lo's Speech here.


Prof. Richard Samuels argued in his lecture “Sino-Japanese Relations: A Rocky Relationship?” that the U.S. and China do not know how to deal with an independent Japan. Japan’s economy has stagnated for two decades, and its economic growth now depends on China, Japan’s largest trading partner. However, political ties remain strained, and China currently lacks appeal in the Japanese public. As the U.S. foreign policy towards Asia is in flux, polls show that Japan’s reliance on the U.S.-Japanese alliance is weakening. Samuels also noted that some Japanese officials are puzzled by US neutrality over the question of sovereignty of the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands, and that Prime Minister Abe, with his visit to the controversial Yasakuni Shrine in December, shifted the world’s attention towards his right-wing political agenda.

It was then time for comments, by Prof. Øystein Tunsjø, Associate Professor at The Norwegian Institute for Defence Studies, and Prof. Liselotte Odgaard, Associate Professor at the Royal Danish Defence College. Prof. Tunsjø noted the return of power politics, and that we are experiencing a systematic change in power capabilities. Further, Tunsjø pointed out that the world is heading towards a bipolar, not a multipolar world order. Prof. Odgaard asked the speakers to reflect on their view on China’s intentions in the international community. Odgaard noted that China is failing to communicate it intentions to the Western public due to its inward-looking traditions.

The five speakers then joined a panel, moderated by Prof. Janne Haaland Matlary, Professor at the University of Oslo.

The next part offered three short lectures, or ‘flashpoints’, by Mr. Henrik Stålhane Hiim, Fellow at the Norwegian Institute of Defence Studies, Prof. Stein Tønnesson, Research Professor at the Peace Research Institute Oslo and Mr. Bjørn Grønning, Fellow at The Norwegian Institute of Defence Studies.

Mr. Henrik Stålhane Hiim, discussing “The North Korean Nuclear Conundrum and Sino-U.S. Relations”, argued that China’s foreign policy towards North Korea will remain more or less unchanged, as North Korea serves strategic value to China as a counterweight to US influence in the region. Stålhane Hiim argued that the unstable environment on the Korean Peninsula due to North Korea’s nuclear threats serves as a pretext for the US to increase cooperation on missile defense capabilities with Japan in the Pacific.

Prof. Stein Tønnessons flashpoints on the South China Sea, China and Vietnam, revolved around the actual motives behind the disputes in the South China Sea. Tønnesson argued that overlapping claims to Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZs) and contiguous zones are drivers of conflict in the South China Sea. China’s claim to sovereignty through the establishment of a nine-dotted line in the South China Sea is extremely provocative to Vietnam. China needs to prevent other nations from agreeing among themselves on disputed areas.

The key argument of Mr. Bjørn Grønning, speaking of “Contentious Islands: the Struggle for Power and Prestige in the East China Sea”, was that the tensions between China and Japan, due to a dispute over sovereignty of the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands in the East China Sea, increase the risk of miscalculations that could potentially lead to conflict. Mr. Grønning pointed to an increased activity in military exercises, transit and surveillance since the Japanese government purchased three of the islands in September 2012. A lack of crisis management mechanisms in Sino-Japanese relationship creates instability in the region and raises the risk of miscalculations and potential military conflict in the East China Sea.

The three flashpoint speakers then joined a panel, led by Professor Janne Haaland Matlary, University of Oslo.


Session III: NATO, the EU, and the Rise of East Asia

We had the honour of welcoming the Norwegian Minister of Defence, Ms Ine Eriksen Søreide, to hold the opening lecture on the conference’s second day. Ms Eriksen Søreides underlined that as the world is changing, so is the alliance, and therefore Europe must be ready to take its share of the burden within the Transatlantic partnership. The growing tensions in Asia are much due to the lack of a security organisation in the region, and instruments of dialogue and confidence building are needed in the region. Ms Eriksen Søreide pointed out that NATO is a political alliance, not purely a military one, and that the alliance tie its members together through common core values, not just security interests. Norway must have sufficient capabilities to contribute, and wants to see more common exercises and aim to participate in the RIMPAC. Cooperation with China in the Bay of Aden and in the High North is in Norway’s interest. Norway views the U.S. rebalance to Asia as a natural response to the changing global power structure, and rather than aiming to be a partner in Asia, Norway should aim to be a key partner in its own backyard.

Read Ms. Eriksen Søreide's speech here.
Listen to Ms. Eriksen Søreide's speech here.

Then, Mr. Arild Moe, Senior Research Fellow and Deputy Director of Fridtjof Nansens Institute, spoke about Asia in the Arctic. Mr. Moe argued that while Asian countries, especially China, Japan and South Korea, have interests in the Arctic region, they are not as invested as they are often perceived. Mr. Moe identified four main areas of interest: Energy resources, shipping opportunities, climate research and development, and the governance and diplomacy of the region. While their interest in the energy resources of the Arctic region is driven by an increased domestic demand for fuel, Asian states and private investors have not yet shown the dedication to commit to the costly and time-consuming process of extracting these resources. The use of the Arctic sea lanes for shipping is also fraught with high cost compared to the potential gains, such as the construction and maintenance of an icebreaker fleet. When it comes to climate research and development, the availability of the Antarctic region reduces the importance of the Arctic to the Asian countries. The granting of observer status on the Arctic Council to China in 2013 reflects an increasing acceptance among the Council members of Asian countries as actors who are both affected by and able to affect what happens in the Arctic region. But while Arctic strategies are being developed in these countries, the region is still not a central topic of priority among Asian decision-makers.

Listen to Mr. Moe's speech here.


Dr. Jonathan Holslag, Postdoctoral Fellow at Brussels Institute of Contemporary China Studies, then entered the podium. In his lecture “EU-China Relations: A Relationship for the 21st Century?”, Dr. Holslag discussed a number of common perceptions about the role of Europe in relation to Asia. Among them were the idea that the EU is in decline compared to the economic rise of China, and also the notion that Europe should be more involved in the politics and policies of Asia. He stated that considering the economic troubles of Europe in a long-term perspective shows that it is wrong to assume that they signify a lasting decline. According to Dr. Holslag, in order to ensure good relations in matters of security Europe must maintain its own integrity by focusing on the challenges at home and in its near environment, not to involve itself in issues in the Asia-Pacific region.

Listen to Dr. Holslag's speech here.

In his lecture “NATO: The New Balance of Power, New Challenges, and Partnerships”, Mr. Gilles Vander Ghinst, Head of Global Partners/Contact Countries Office at the Political Affairs and Security Policy Division at NATO HQ, noted how partnerships between NATO and other countries are necessary to promote global stability, and mentioned some of the structures that govern these partnerships, such as the Partnership for Peace and the Istanbul Cooperation Initiative. He highlighted the importance of preserving the connectivity achieved between NATO-members and non-NATO contributors during the years of the ISAF operation.

Listen to Mr. Ghinst's speech here.

Mr. Moe, Dr. Holslag and Mr. Vander Ghinst then joined a panel moderated by Mr. Leiv Lunde,Director of the Fridtjof Nansen Institute.

The conference was summarised by Mr. Jo Inge Bekkevold, Head of the Centre for Asian Security Studies at the the Norwegian Institute for Defence Studies. In his summary, Mr. Bekkevold reflected on China’s internal challenges, in particular demographics and the future economic growth. Bekkevold argued that the economic model that caused China to rise at a rate never previously witnessed is not sustainable, and that Beijing will need to keep its focus on developing a new economic model as well as on the challenges caused by an aging population and large-scale urbanisation. Due to this, we are not likely to see much change in political reform in China in the next 5-10 years, according to Bekkevold.

After a Q&A session, Secretary General Kate Hansen Bundt held the closing remarks, thanking speakers and participants for a successful conference.


For a full biography of the speakers, please see the conference brochure. Also visit our Facebook page for more pictures from the conference.