Switzerland and the Swiss have an excellent reputation among middle and upper class Chinese, even if this image is dominated by clichés.
The results of a new survey, conducted by the governmental organisation, Presence Switzerland, showed Switzerland rated higher than all other countries it was benchmarked against.
On a scale of one to 100, Switzerland received an average score of 77.8, nearly one point ahead of France and six points more than third place Germany. Britain, South Korea, Austria and the United States were the other countries used for the comparison.
Presence Switzerland commissioned the study ahead of a four-year public relations campaign in China, due to begin in 2007. The organisation will also be responsible for the Swiss pavilion at the Shanghai world exhibition in 2011.
"If we have a positive image, we have to make every effort not to lose it," Johannes Matyassy, head of Presence Switzerland, told swissinfo.
The survey found however, that the Chinese know little about the country beyond traditional stereotypes.
Half of those questioned said they associated Switzerland with watches, while one in five mentioned its "beautiful countryside". Banking, neutrality, skiing and army knives also figured high on their list of associations.
"Switzerland has a lot to offer culturally, something the Chinese are unaware of," Matyassy said, adding that his organization would work together with the Swiss arts council, Pro Helvetia, to create a special programme of cultural events in China.
Unlike Germany and the US, Switzerland was not perceived in any negative way. The Chinese still recall Germany's Nazi past and have a lower opinion of Americans because of the Iraq war and their government's focus on "terrorism".
Standard of living
The Chinese also appreciate Switzerland's high standard of living, its political stability, intact environment, educational system and research institutions. They thought less though of the country's economic competitiveness, and ability to manufacture innovative and world-class products.
In the eyes of the Chinese, this is where the Swiss play second fiddle to the Germans and Americans.
More than half of those surveyed were aware of Geneva's status as an international centre and Switzerland's policy of neutrality, but did not think of Switzerland as a multicultural country, and had not heard of it as a leading centre for the pharmaceutical, chemical and biotechnology industries.
The study confirmed that recent efforts by the national tourist office to promote Switzerland in China were beginning to pay dividends. Switzerland came second only to France as the preferred travel destination for the Chinese.
swissinfo with agencies
Swiss exports to China amounted to more than SFr3 billion in 2004, or 2.1% of the total of Swiss exports.
Chinese goods accounted for 2% of Swiss imports in the same year, valued at SFr2.8 billion.
Switzerland opened a "Business Hub" in Beijing in 2002, with a branch in Shanghai to promote trade relations.
Commissioned by Presence Switzerland, the study was carried out by IDHEAP, the graduate institute of administrative studies.
The interviews were conducted between mid-February and mid-March this year and included "opinion leaders" and university students on mainland China and Hong Kong.
The opinion leaders consisted of 120 local and regional politicians, 120 managers with multinational companies and 120 journalists.
The students had to be either studying for their Masters degree or doctorate at one of China's top ten universities.
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