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Looking back on a diplomatic incident China’s first state visit to Switzerland since 1999

When Xi Jinping visits Switzerland next week, it will be the first time a Chinese president has done so since 1999. The last time a president visited, Tibet’s sympathisers unveiled “Free Tibet” banners in Bern.

The Swiss cabinet welcomes Chinese President Xi Jinping "as an expression of the increasingly close political and economic relations between Switzerland and China," the government said on Friday. Speeches, talks and a gala dinner are planned.

Relations with China have seen rockier times. The previous state visit in 1999 resulted in a diplomatic incident: During the official reception for China's then-President Jiang Zemin, complete with military honours in the federal square before parliament, Tibetan sympathisers unrolled "Free Tibet" banners on adjacent rooftops.

The incident made the Chinese angry. The president declined to shake hands with the Swiss president, Ruth Dreifuss, and he made himself clear in a speech to parliament. "You've lost a good friend," he said fiercely. Since then, the relationship has improved significantly and culminated in the signing of a free trade agreement in 2014.

(Photos: Keystone)

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