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Bilateral relations between Switzerland and China

The long-standing bilateral relations between the People's Republic of China and the Swiss Confederation are strong and have unceasingly become more intense over the past years. This is particularly evidenced by the regularly held, high-level mutual visits taking place. In addition to dynamic economic cooperation, the two countries are engaged in dialogue in a number of areas such as, for instance, the environment and sustainable development, human rights and migration, science and education, and the domain of financing.

Key aspects of diplomatic relations

In 2007, Switzerland and China signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) on the intensification of high-level political consultations and the further deepening of bilateral relations. Along with regular, official contacts between Beijing and Bern, there exist a number of partnership projects between cantons and cities, and - on the level of civil society - a lively exchange between various experts, academic institutions, and groups of artists.

Economic relations

Today, China is Switzerland's primary trading partner in Asia (trade volume 2012: CHF 18.1 billion). The negotiations launched in 2011 with a view to a bilateral free-trade agreement were formally concluded at the technical level during the 9th round of negotiations held in May 2013 in Bern. The agreement applies to the trade of goods (industrial and agricultural products), rules of origin, trade facilitation measures, non-tariff trade barriers, trade in services, the protection of intellectual property, the promotion of investments, competition, transparency in public sector procurement, economic and technical cooperation and arrangements relating to trade and the environment. A parallel agreement regulates trade and labour standards. Its preamble refers to the principles, values and fundamental instruments of international relations and international law.

On the occasion of the official visit of Chinese Prime Minister Li Keqiang in May 2013, a bilateral dialogue on financial issues was initiated between the People's Bank of China and the State Secretariat for International Financial Matters (SIF) with the signing of an MoU.

Human Security

In addition to specific consultations in the domain of labour law and rule of law, ever since 1991 China and Switzerland have been engaged in a comprehensive human-rights dialogue. The last round was held in Switzerland in March 2011, with the next round scheduled to take place in the second half of 2013. Within the scope of this human-rights dialogue, various projects have been implemented and individual cases discussed. In terms of content, the human-rights dialogue focuses on:

  • Criminal law/criminal proceedings/administration of punishment
  • Minorities/religious freedom
  • The economy and human rights
  • International human rights questions.

Other instruments also enable progress to be made in the area of human rights: for instance bilateral demarches on specific questions, the commitment within multilateral organizations, in particular the UN Commission on Human Rights, and cooperation with experts.

In the domain of humanitarian aid, along with the ongoing readiness to provide emergency relief, Switzerland has institutionalized and deepened its cooperation with the Chinese Natural Disaster Coordination Unit. Most recently, Switzerland offered its assistance in the aftermath of the earthquakes in the provinces of Sichuan (2008, 2013) and Qinghai (2010).

Climate change and sustainable development

Over the past years, Switzerland and China have institutionalized their cooperation in the domain of the environment and climate with a series of MoUs, while fleshing it out with concrete projects. More specifically, cooperation focuses, e.g., on ecological risks, questions of climate-adaptation strategies, the fostering of environmental technologies, and consultation on climate legislation.

Education and research

In view of its significant potential for scientific and technological development, China belongs to those non-European States that have been defined as priority countries for Switzerland's research cooperation in the Message on Education, Research, and Innovation 2008-2011. In 2008, a bilateral research programme was set up with the Sino-Swiss Science and Technology Cooperation project. The results and cooperation have been most gratifying, and the programme entered into its third phase in 2013. In the academic year 2012/13, some 1202 Chinese students were enrolled at Swiss universities. Scholars and artists from China can apply to the SERI for Swiss Government Excellence Scholarships.

Swiss nationals in China

In 2011, there were 722 Swiss nationals resident in China, of whom 239 hold dual citizenship.

Cultural exchanges

Numerous cultural projects, such as the festival 'Culturescapes' which exhibited modern and traditional Chinese art in Switzerland for three months, were organized as part of the anniversary of diplomatic relations between the two countries in 2010.

History of bilateral relations

In the mid-17th century traders and missionaries from Switzerland established contact with the Chinese Empire. Trading relations developed at a rapid pace in the second half of the 18th century, leading to the opening of a Swiss trading agency in Shanghai in 1912.

The first official contacts between the two countries were made in 1906. Relations between Switzerland and the Republic of China were codified in a treaty of friendship in 1918, a few years after the fall of the Qing dynasty.

Switzerland recognized the newly-established People’s Republic of China on 17 January 1950, one of the first Western states to do so. It simultaneously withdrew recognition from the Republic of China (Taiwan). Contacts with the People’s Republic were not initially close, owing to internal turmoil in China and the Cold War. The People’s Republic made its first appearance on the international stage when Chinese premier Chou En-lai took part in the Indochina Conference in Geneva in 1954.

Bilateral relations between Switzerland and China have developed at a very brisk pace since Deng Xiaoping launched his policy of liberalization and reform in 1979. In 2010, both countries celebrated the 60th anniversary of their bilateral relations.