Swiss Defence Minister Samuel Schmid is beginning a six-day trip to China and South Korea for a series of talks with his ministerial counterparts.This content was published on February 25, 2006 - 12:25
He is also expected to visit the demarcation line between North and South Korea, which is being monitored by Swiss soldiers as part of an international mission.
The trip, which has been described as an official working visit by the defence ministry, will start in China.
Schmid has been invited to Shanghai, the central Henan province, and the capital, Beijing, by Chinese Defence Minister Cao Gangchuan.
"At the centre of talks with Cao Gangchuan will be the situation in the region and Swiss-Chinese relations," said a defence ministry statement. Schmid will also visit Chinese troops.
The last meeting between the two ministers dates back to October 2004 and took place in Switzerland, where they discussed the international security situation, the development of the armed forces, and bilateral relations.
In South Korea, Schmid will meet Swiss personnel stationed on the demarcation line between the North and South Korea.
They form part of the Neutral Nations Supervisory Commission in Korea (NNSC), which was appointed to monitor the armistice between the two countries in 1953.
In all, five Swiss and four Swedish representatives are stationed in the village of Panmunjom.
The NNSC delegates work on the basis of a United Nations mandate, but are neither peacekeepers nor military observers. They are tasked with fulfilling an impartial military-diplomatic mission of negotiation and mediation, according to the defence ministry.
Foreign Minister Micheline Calmy-Rey made a historic step in 2003, when she became the first foreign government official to cross the demarcation line.
Schmid will also meet South Korean Defence Minister Yoon Kwang-woong in the capital Seoul and later take a look at South Korean troops.
The defence minister's visit is the latest in a series of moves towards Asian countries.
In May 2005 the Swiss government announced that it wanted to increase cooperation with the United States and other important partners, such as China and Japan.
At the beginning of this month Chinese Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing visited Calmy-Rey in Switzerland, where they talked about human rights issues and economic ties.
Switzerland is keen to foster relations with flourishing Asian economies.
China is currently Switzerland's biggest trading partner in Asia and Bern has already raised the possibility of concluding a free-trade agreement between Beijing and the European Free Trade Association (Efta), whose members include Switzerland, Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein.
Efta has already signed a similar accord with Seoul, which is due to come into force in July this year. South Korea is among Switzerland's five largest trading partners in Asia and the 11th largest economic power worldwide.
Switzerland was one of the first western countries to establish official relations with China in 1950.
Swiss troops have been patrolling the demilitarised zone between South and North Korea since 1953.
Both countries are among Switzerland's top five trading partners in Asia. Swiss exports to China totalled SFr3 billion ($2.3 billion) in 2004 and those to South Korea totalled SFr1.3 billion in 2004.
China: 1.3 billion
South Korea: 48.2 million
Switzerland: 7.1 million
Gross national income per capita:
South Korea: $13,980
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