Economics Minister Couchepin visits China to boost trade ties

Swiss Economics Minister Pascal Couchepin, accompanied by top business leaders, is paying a week-long visit to China. Discussions in Beijing Monday and Shanghai Wednesday will be dominated by trade issues, including tourism and market access.

This content was published on November 5, 1999 - 17:08

Swiss Economics Minister Pascal Couchepin, accompanied by top business leaders, is paying a week-long visit to China. Discussions in Beijing Monday and Shanghai Wednesday will be dominated by trade issues, including tourism and market access.

Switzerland is one of the major direct investors in China, and Couchepin’s visit comes only a few days before Switzerland and China can mark 50 years of formal diplomatic relations.

However, Chinese President Jiang Zemin’s visit to Switzerland eight months ago was marred by vociferous protests over Tibet -- a demonstration which prompted Jiang to lecture the Swiss about respect, security and hospitality.

Jiang said that, with the protests disrupting his official reception, Switzerland had lost a friend. The state visit ended on a much more conciliatory note though, and the Swiss authorities conceded some protocol mistakes.

“You are a practical man and you will be welcome in China,” Jiang told Couchepin at the time.

On the eve of his visit to China, Couchepin therefore expressed optimism about his reception in Beijing. “I leave Switzerland with the knowledge that I will be welcome in China. Difficult moments can be overcome,” he said ahead of Saturday's departure.

Couchepin is due to hold talks with Foreign Trade and Economic Cooperation Minister Shi Guangsheng, Finance Minister Xian Huaicheng and Central Bank Governor Dai Xianglong.

Couchepin is further expected to formally open a Swiss tourism office and is to participate in a “Swiss Finance Day” in Beijing, where Sino-Swiss business relations are to be developed further.

Amnesty International called on Couchepin to specifically address the human rights situation in China. Amnesty said that China was in breach of an international convention on political rights, which it signed in 1998. The human rights organisation said more than 70 dissidents had been detained by the Chinese authorities since Beijing signed the convention.

But Couchepin played down the human rights issue, saying that Switzerland would not lecture China and would respect the country’s tradition, culture and sensitivities.

“Friends can talk about many things. But first one has to create a climate of friendship,” Couchepin said.

From staff and wire reports.

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