Bilateral relations Switzerland–China

Since 2010 China has been Switzerland's most important trading partner in Asia. The two countries also maintain dialogue in many areas, including the environment and sustainable development, development cooperation, human rights and migration, education and science, and finance. Switzerland and the People's Republic of China have maintained bilateral relations since 1950.  

Key aspects of diplomatic relations

An innovative strategic partnership was established during the visit by the President of the Swiss Confederation, Johann N. Schneider-Ammann, in April 2016.

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.

Treaty database

China, official

Chinese government, official

Memorandum of Understanding Between the Swiss Federal Council and the Government of the People's Republic of China on Promoting Dialogue and Cooperation (1 September 2007) (PDF, Number of pages 4, 105.6 kB, English)

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.

Signed under the witness of Swiss and Chinese presidents, Sino-Swiss Low Carbon Cities Project launched in Chengdu, press release, 13.04.2016 (en, 中文)

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).

International cooperation (en, 中文)

Economic relations

Since 2010 China has been Switzerland's most important trading partner in Asia (trade volume in 2015:  CHF 31 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.

Free trade agreement between Switzerland and China to enter into force on 1 July 2014, press release, Federal Department of Economic Affairs, Education and Reserach, 30 April 2014

Free trade agreement with China, State Secretariat for Economic Affairs

Asia/Oceania, State Secretariat for Economic Affairs

Trade promotion, Switzerland Global Enterprise

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).

Official visit to Berne of Chinese Prime Minister Li Keqiang, press release, 30 May 2013

Renminbi-Swiss franc swap agreement and investment quota in renminbi for the National Bank, press release, SNB, 21 July 2014 (fr)

Cooperation in education, research and innovation

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 2017–2020 provides for the continuation of existing programmes and a further increase in cooperation.

The Federal Council Dispatch on Education, Research and Innovation for 2017–2020, State Secretariat for Education, Research and Innovation (de, fr, it)

Exchanges in the areas of innovation and education, in particular thanks to the activities of the universities of applied sciences, are being stepped up.

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.

Swiss Government Excellence Scholarships for foreign researchers and artists, State Secretariat for Education, Research and Innovation

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.

China, Swissnex (en, 中文)

Human Security

Besides specific consultations on labour law and the rule of law, since 1991 China and Switzerland have been engaged in an annual 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

Switzerland's human rights policy

Humanitarian aid

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).

Cultural exchanges

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.  

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 had been organised in 2015 to mark the 65th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between Switzerland and China.

Agreement between the Federal Council of the Swiss Confederation and the Government of the People's Republic of China on the illegal export and restitution of cultural property (fr, de, it)

Pro Helvetia Shanghai ( en, 中文)

Swiss nationals in China

At the end of 2015, there were 3,992 Swiss citizens living in China (including Hong Kong).

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.

China, Historical Dictionary of Switzerland (de, fr, it)