Switzerland and the People's Republic of China have maintained bilateral relations since 1950. Relations between the two countries have intensified in recent years, as evidenced by regular high-level visits between the two countries. Since 2010 China has been Switzerland's most important trading partner in Asia. The two countries also maintain dialogue in the areas of the environment and sustainable development, human rights and migration, education and science, and finance.
Bilateral relations Switzerland–China
Key aspects of diplomatic relations
In 2007 Switzerland and China signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) to intensify high-level political consultations and strengthen bilateral relations across a wide range of areas. Besides regular official contacts between Beijing and Bern, there are also partnership projects between cantons and cities. At the level of civil society, there are lively exchanges between various experts, academic institutions and artists' associations.
Switzerland and China are working together in the area of the environment and climate change, in particular in the management of environmental risks, climate adaptation strategies, the promotion of environmental technologies, and advice on climate legislation. They have institutionalised their cooperation through a series of memorandums of understanding and strengthened it through concrete projects.
Since 2010 China has been Switzerland's most important trading partner in Asia (trade volume in 2013: CHF 20.2 billion) and the third-largest globally after the EU and the United States. Following negotiations launched in 2011, a bilateral free-trade agreement was signed in Beijing in July 2013. Having been approved by the National Council and the Council of States, the free trade agreement between the People's Republic of China and Switzerland came into effect on 1 July 2014.
The agreement contains provisions on trade in goods (industrial and agricultural products), non-tariff barriers (e.g. technical rules), trade in services, the protection of intellectual property, and trade and sustainable development.
A parallel agreement on labour and employment-related matters was also concluded. The preamble refers to the principles, values and basic instruments of international relations and international law.
On the occasion of the official visit of Chinese Premier Li Keqiang to Bern in May 2013, a memorandum of understanding was signed to mark the start of a bilateral dialogue on financial matters between the People’s Bank of China and the State Secretariat for Financial Matters (SIF).
Besides specific consultations on labour law and the rule of law, since 1991 China and Switzerland have been engaged in a comprehensive human rights dialogue. The last round of talks took place in China in November 2013; the next round is scheduled for the first half of 2015 in Switzerland. Various projects are being implemented and individual cases discussed within the framework of this dialogue. The human rights dialogue focuses on the following:
- Criminal law, criminal procedure and penal system
- Minorities and religious freedom
- Business and human rights
- International human rights issues
In addition to its readiness to provide emergency relief whenever it is needed, Switzerland has also institutionalised and strengthened its cooperation with China's National Commission for Disaster Reduction. Most recently, Switzerland offered its assistance in the aftermath of the earthquakes that struck the provinces of Sichuan (2008, 2013) and Qinghai (2010).
Cooperation in the domain of education
In view of its significant potential for scientific and technological development, China is among the non-European nations designated as a priority country for research cooperation in the Swiss government's Dispatch on the Promotion of Education, Research and Innovation in 2008-2011 and the 2010 international strategy on education, research and education..
Bilateral research programmes have been established with these countries, such as the Sino-Swiss Science and Technology Cooperation programme in 2008. The Federal Council Dispatch on Education, Research and Innovation for 2013-2016 provides for the continuation of existing programmes and a further increase in cooperation.
Swiss Government Excellence Scholarships awarded by the State Secretariat for Education, Research and Innovation (SERI) are another instrument to support international contacts among researchers. Twenty-five such scholarships are available to researchers from China. Chinese students comprise the largest group of non-European students in Switzerland.
Since 2008 Shanghai has been a Swissnex location for Switzerland. Swissnex is a platform that actively supports the international activities of Swiss stakeholders in the fields of education, research and innovation. In addition, the Swiss embassy in Beijing boasts a science and technology council.
Swiss nationals in China
At the end of 2013, there were 4,129 Swiss citizens living in China.
Switzerland and China have significantly increased their cultural relations in recent years. For example, in 2010 the Swiss Arts Council Pro Helvetia opened a liaison office in Shanghai to promote cultural exchanges between Switzerland and China and to raise the profile of Swiss artistic productions and artists abroad.
The bilateral agreement between China and Switzerland on the illegal export and restitution of cultural property also contributes significantly to this increase in cultural exchanges. The agreement was concluded in August 2013 and entered into force in January 2014.
Numerous cultural projects are being organised in 2015 to mark the 65th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between Switzerland and China.
History of bilateral relations
In the mid-17th century traders and missionaries from Switzerland established contact with the Chinese Empire. Trade relations developed at a rapid pace in the second half of the 19th century, leading to the opening of a Swiss trading agency in Shanghai in 1912.
The first official contacts between the two countries took place in 1906. A treaty of friendship signed in 1918 formalised relations between Switzerland and the Republic of China.
Switzerland recognised the newly-established People’s Republic of China on 17 January 1950, one of the first Western states to do so. At the same time, it withdrew recognition from the Republic of China (Taiwan). Contacts with the People’s Republic were not close initially 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 Zhou Enlai took part in the Indochina Conference in Geneva in 1954.
Since Deng Xiaoping launched his open-door and reform policy in 1979, bilateral relations between Switzerland and China have developed at a very rapid pace. In 2015, the two countries celebrate 65 years of bilateral relations.