On 9-10 November the University of Helsinki hosted the annual Asian Studies Days, organized by the Finnish University Network for Asian Studies, and the annual China Research Day, organized by the Finnish Institute of International Affairs.
The Finnish Center of Chinese Law and Chinese Legal Culture, the Faculty of Law of the University of Helsinki, and the Confucius Centre of the University of Helsinki co-organized both events.
The theme of this year’s events was China-US Relations and Asian Security. The theme was timely given the concurrent visit of US President Donald Trump to Asia, which included a meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping. The backdrop to the meeting of the two presidents, and to the theme of this year’s China Research Day and Asian Studies Days, is the relative stability of East Asia over the last few decades. Despite historical grievances that have affected intra-regional relations politically, economic inter-dependencies have made the region’s actors seek cooperation rather than conflict.
However, as was highlighted throughout the two-day event, recently there have been indications that the situation may be changing. China’s actions in the East and South China Seas have been regarded by some commentators as increasingly assertive. The Trump presidency has introduced a heightened level of tension in China–US relations. And the bold nuclear and missile tests by North Korea have heightened the risk of a military confrontation in the region.
These issues were discussed at length in insightful presentations from two prominent Chinese experts on Chinese foreign policy, international relations, and the US/China relationship: Shi Yinhong, Professor of International Relations, Renmin University of China, and Li Mingjiang, Professor, Institute of Defence and Strategic Studies, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore.
Professor Outi Luova of the University of Turku, who is also the Director of Finnish University Network for Asian Studies (Asianet), moderated the morning session and the afternoon session was chaired by Elina Sinkkonen, Senior Research Fellow at the Finnish Institute of International Affairs.
During her welcoming words and introduction Julie Chen, Professor of Chinese Studies at the University of Helsinki and Director the Confucius Institute of the University of Helsinki, provided the packed venue with an overview of the broader theoretical and political context in which security tensions in the Asia/Pacific region are being experienced.
Dr Sabine Burghart, newly arrived University Lecturer in the Center of East Asian Studies, University of Turku, commented on the North Korean aspect of US-China relations, and Jyrki Kallio, Senior Research Fellow of the the Finnish Institute of International Affairs, shared his thoughts on China’s strategy in the South China Sea dispute.
The calibre of speakers, as well as the timeliness and importance of the main theme, meant that over 130 people participated in the events. Professor Shi was also interviewed by the Finnish television station MTV3.
As Professor Ulla Liukkunen, Director of the Finnish China Law Center, said during her speech at the reception, the official City of Helsinki reception not only underscores the importance of bilateral legal education and research cooperation between Finland and China, but highlights the special, long-term relationship that exists between the capital cities of Helsinki and Beijing.
The organizers would also like to acknowledge the generous assistance provided by the Joel Toivola Foundation.