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Address at the Asia Mediation Retreat

Minister of Foreign Affairs Ine Eriksen Søreide's address at the conference  "Asia Mediation Retreat" in Beijing.

Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen,

It is a pleasure to join so many distinguished participants at the Asia Mediation Retreat in Beijing today. In particular, I would like to thank our dedicated partners, the China Institute of International Studies and the Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue, for co-organising this timely event.

Conflict resolution and peace diplomacy is a priority for Norway. We are engaged in a number of peace processes around the world, and as you know, we host an annual mediation conference in Norway, the Oslo Forum. In March this year we gathered for the first time all the regional women mediators networks in Oslo.

In my view, the fact that this retreat is taking place in Beijing is in itself an inspiration. I have enjoyed my meetings with Foreign Minister Wang Yi, where issues relating to peace and reconciliation have been on the agenda. We appreciate China’s increasing engagement in this field, a field where there is great scope for coordination and cooperation between our two countries.

This year, China is celebrating 40 years of the reform and opening up- period. Since 1978, more than 750 million people have worked their way out of extreme poverty in China.

There is also another 40th Anniversary that is worth celebrating: ‘The Long Peace’ of East Asia. It is important to remember that during the 30 years following the Second World War, East Asia was one of the most violent and war-torn regions in the world, with hostilities both within and between states.

Since 1979, peace has prevailed. What this region has accomplished in the last 40 years can serve as inspiration to other countries and regions that are still facing conflict and war.

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The theme for this Asia Mediation Retreat is ‘New Actors, Emerging Practices’. The time we spend here in Beijing today and tomorrow will give us the opportunity to discuss a number of important issues.

Preventing, de-escalating and resolving violent conflict is an effective way of fostering stability, security and development. This is why Norway, for the last 25 years, has invested considerable time and effort in peace diplomacy. It is clearly in our interest to contribute to peace where we can.

In Asia, Norway is engaged in peace diplomacy in various ways. We have been involved in Afghanistan for many years, and started to work for a political settlement at an early stage. Norway has long been engaged in the efforts to advance peace in Myanmar. In the Philippines, we have been facilitating the peace process between the Government and the communist movement since 2001.

I am pleased that some of these conflicts are among the topics on the agenda for this retreat. But before the discussions about these specific conflicts starts, I would like to mention a few consistent features of Norway’s approach to peace and reconciliation work.

First, a willingness to talk with all kinds of actors. This was evident in the Middle East peace process, where Norway involved the PLO from an early stage. Engagement builds trust and promotes a better understanding of the underlying interests.

Second, the need to build trust. This has become a truism at conferences on peace diplomacy. However, there are different ways of building trust. For us, it has been important to be clear about our positions and values when we approach actors. Norway can be impartial, but not neutral. Norway’s engagement is built on principles of democracy and international standards, for instance relating to victims’ rights. But we do not have any other agenda than trying to contribute to peace and reconciliation.

Third, patience. A willingness to engage over time. The road to peace is paved with patience, persistence, and bumps. Norwegian peace diplomacy enjoys broad support across the political spectrum in Norway and among the public. When we engage, we do it for the long run. Parties to conflicts know that our willingness to contribute will not change if there is a change of government, even when processes become difficult or suffer setbacks. The Colombian peace process has drawn on almost 20 years of consistent Norwegian engagement with the parties. The actual negotiations took five years.

Fourth, accept the possibility of failure. Norway recognises the high political risks involved in any peace process and accepts that not all efforts lead to success. Even when efforts fail, they may not have been in vain. They may well have increased the chances of finding a stable peaceful solution in the long run.

Fifth, the parties themselves own the conflict and the process. We can bring parties together to contribute to trust and competence building. However, sustainable peace will always depend on the willingness of the parties themselves to find common ground.

Sixth, discretion. In peace diplomacy, I am convinced that discreet diplomacy is better than negotiations conducted in the public eye. Again, the Colombian peace process provides a good example. The parties managed to agree on principles and an agenda for the negotiations during the secret phase facilitated by Norway and Cuba. Discretion gives the parties the space they need to secure trust and make progress on complicated and controversial issues without unnecessary interference, and without the political stakes being too high.

Seventh, Norway’s engagement does not end when a peace agreement is signed. We must all work to create a sustainable peace. Implementation is when the parties are tested. We wish to contribute all we can to ensure that the peace lasts through this fragile stage.

Last, but not least, Norway stresses the need for inclusive peace processes. Women suffer disproportionately in wars. Including them in peace processes should not be seen as a gesture of goodwill or as motivated by ideals. Research shows that the inclusion of women leads to more sustainable peace. As Nobel Peace laureate Leymah Gbowee said at the opening of the formal gathering of regional networks of women mediators in Oslo last March: Women are not observers of war; why should we be observers to peace?

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Peace never comes easily, and we should never take it for granted.

There is no denying that we are now going through a period of global uncertainty. How we choose to navigate these uncharted waters will have long-lasting implications.

Today’s conflicts have become more complex. The last few years have been among the deadliest since the Cold War. The number of displaced people is at a record high. New threats are emerging, as are new power constellations. And old threats don’t do away.

But the picture is not all gloom and doom; we must also remember the glimmers of hope. After 50 years of conflict, Colombia successfully negotiated a peace agreement with the Farc. Similarly, there are positive developments on the Horn of Africa and positive signals in Afghanistan, like the recent ceasefires. We must be ready to build on the momentum created by positive developments like these, and promote peace through diplomatic action – just as East Asia has been able to maintain its ‘Long Peace’ for 40 years, and will hopefully do so for a great many more.

Continued peaceful development in Asia, this most dynamic of regions, is of utmost importance to all of us.

International cooperation to promote peace and reconciliation needs to be at the top of all our agendas.

I hope the discussions during this retreat are fruitful. Given the impressive amount of expertise in this room, I am convinced that they will be.

Thank you.

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