Switzerland maintains good and increasingly close relations with South Korea. The country is an important trading partner that is attractive for Swiss investors, and cooperation in the field of science and research is also gaining in importance.
Key aspects of diplomatic relations
In 2012–2013, Switzerland and South Korea have celebrated the 50th anniversary of bilateral relations between the two countries. Switzerland is a member of the Neutral Nations Supervisory Commission (NNSC), which was created pursuant to the ceasefire agreement of 1953. In the absence of a peace agreement, this is the only legal instrument to date preventing further outbreaks of hostilities on the Korean peninsula.
Since the free-trade agreement between the European Free Trade Area (EFTA) and South Korea came into force in 2006, trade with Switzerland has become more extensive. The Embassy in Seoul has been supplemented by a Swiss Business Hub since November 2010, which promotes trade and investments between the two countries.
Following the 2009 crisis, the volume of bilateral trade in 2010 and 2011 reached record levels. In 2014, exports grew by 5.6% (watches and watch parts, pharmaceutical products, machinery), and more than 50 Swiss companies are operating in South Korea today. In Asia, South Korea is Switzerland's fifth largest sales market and the ninth largest exporter to Switzerland.
Cooperation in education, research and innovation
South Korea is one of Switzerland's eight priority countries worldwide for bilateral cooperation in the field of education, research and innovation. A bilateral agreement signed in 2008 launched the Korean-Swiss Science and Technology Programme, which promotes Switzerland as a research location in South Korea. To date, 37 projects in the natural sciences and engineering fields have received support as part of this programme.
In 2012, a science and technology office (STO) was created as an integral part of the Swiss embassy in Seoul. The STO is part of the global swissnex network of the State Secretariat for Education, Research and Innovation (SERI).
In 2013 and 2014, a number of agreements to promote bilateral cooperation in the area of innovation were signed between SERI and the South Korean Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy (MOTIE), and between the Swiss Commission for Technology and Innovation (CTI) and the Korea Institute for the Advancement of Technology (KIAT). These agreements also deal with applied research in private companies. Switzerland and South Korea are also working together in a public-private partnership – the Swiss-Korean Life Science Initiative – in the field of medical technology and biotechnology.
Four Swiss higher education institutions have alumni networks in South Korea: the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne (EPFL), the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich (ETH), the International Institute for Management Development Lausanne (IMD) and the University of St. Gallen. As part of the Swiss Government Excellence Scholarships, Switzerland offers three scholarships every year to South Korean students and artists.
Swiss nationals in South Korea
At the beginning of 2015, there were 257 Swiss nationals resident in South Korea.
Alongside private initiatives, the Swiss Arts Council Pro Helvetia, Swiss Films and Presence Switzerland promote cultural exchanges. The cultural fund set up in 2009 is intended to raise the profile of Switzerland in South Korea. At the World Expo 2012 in Yeosu, Switzerland presented a pavilion on the theme “The source: It's in your hands”.
To celebrate the 50th anniversary of diplomatic relations between the two countries, Switzerland organised numerous events between summer 2012 and summer 2013. The programme included topics such as Swiss art and culture, design, as well as sustainability and innovation.
The Swiss embassy in Seoul helps to promote Switzerland's cultural presence in South Korea, and regularly participates in the "Tage der deutschen Sprache“, “Settimana della lingua italiana” and the “Journée de la Francophonie”.
History of bilateral relations
At the end of the Korean War in 1953, Switzerland was nominated to the Neutral Nations Supervisory Commission (NNSC) on the demarcation line between the Democratic Peoples' Republic of Korea (North Korea) and South Korea (South Korea). This was the first foreign deployment of members of the Swiss armed forces.
In December 1962, Switzerland established diplomatic relations with South Korea. Over the following decades, contact between the two countries has continuously deepened and they now enjoy close and friendly relations.
Switzerland remains committed to maintenance of the ceasefire agreement on the Korean peninsula and is ready to offer its good offices at any time, as it did when it hosted four-party talks between the two Koreas, China and the US in Geneva in 1997–1999.