Switzerland maintains good and increasingly dynamic relations with the Republic of 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
Switzerland and the Republic of Korea have maintained diplomatic relations since 1962. Many bilateral meetings at the highest level have helped to cement the two countries’ good relations. A regular political dialogue has taken place since 2014.
Switzerland is a member of the Neutral Nations Supervisory Commission (NNSC), an institutional military presence posted on the border between North and South Korea to monitor compliance with the 1953 ceasefire agreement.
Trade between Switzerland and Korea has more than doubled since the free-trade agreement between the European Free Trade Area (EFTA) and the Republic of Korea came into force in 2006. This has generated a large export surplus for Switzerland, amounting to over CHF 2 billion in 2016. Switzerland’s main exports to South Korea are watches and watch parts, pharmaceutical products and machinery. Switzerland imports mainly pharmaceuticals, motor vehicles and electronic devices from South Korea. In Asia, South Korea is Switzerland's fifth largest sales market and the ninth largest exporter to Switzerland. Efforts are under way to expand the free trade agreement.
Since November 2010, a Swiss Business Hub has joined the Swiss embassy in Seoul in promoting trade and investment between the two countries. Today, over 100 Swiss companies are represented in the Republic of Korea. The non-profit Swiss-Korean Business Council also promotes economic relations between Switzerland and South Korea.
Cooperation in education, research and innovation
South Korea is one of eight countries worldwide in which Switzerland prioritises bilateral cooperation in the field of education, research and innovation.
In 2012, a science and technology office (STO) was launched within the Swiss embassy in Seoul. The office supports various projects in connection with the bilateral agreement on the Korean-Swiss Science and Technology Programme.
Various areas of common interest have been identified, in particular in medical technologies and cooperation between academic research and industry. Swiss medical technology start-ups have received increased support to encourage research and development in partnership with Korean institutions.
In education, fellowship programmes for post-graduate researchers have been set up by RTH Global and NRF Korea. Swiss Government Excellence Scholarships are offered to three Korean researchers or artists every year.
Swiss nationals in the Republic of Korea
At the beginning of 2017, there were 275 Swiss nationals living in the Republic of Korea according to Swiss statistics.
The Swiss Arts Council Pro Helvetia, Swiss Films and Presence Switzerland promote cultural exchange alongside various private initiatives. The Swiss Fund Korea seeks to strengthen Switzerland’s image in the South Korea. The Swiss embassy in Seoul also helps to promote Switzerland's cultural presence in the Republic, through regular participation in the ‘Tage der deutschen Sprache’ and the ‘Fête 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 and the Republic of Korea. This was the first foreign deployment of members of the Swiss armed forces.
In December 1962, Switzerland established diplomatic relations with the Republic of Korea. In the subsequent decades, the ties between Switzerland and the Republic of Korea continued to grow stronger, resulting in the close, amicable relations enjoyed today.
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.