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Testing times for relations with China, says Swiss minister

Ignazio Cassis
Human rights violations are on the rise in China, says Swiss foreign minister Ignazio Cassis. © Keystone / Peter Schneider

Relations between Bern and Beijing are currently being put to the test, says Swiss foreign minister Ignazio Cassis, who wants to see Switzerland being “more robust” with China.

In an interview with the SonntagsBlick newspaper, he notes that “human rights violations are on the rise” in China and that  “if China abandons the ‘one country, two systems’ principle in Hong Kong, it will affect numerous Swiss companies that have invested there”.

“In 70 years of relations with China, we have succeeded in building a constructive but critical relationship,” Cassis tells the newspaper, adding that rule of law and human rights have always been part of the dialogue.

“First we established economic relations [with China] and then we talked about human rights,” he says. But China has changed, which is why “Switzerland must defend its interests and values more robustly, for example by strengthening international law and the multilateral system”.

Switzerland, he continues, thought it could “emancipate itself a little from Europe” through a free trade agreement with China that came into force in 2014, but “history is more turbulent than expected”, he says.

Relations with the EU

Asked about relations with the European Union, Cassis tells the paper Switzerland can’t afford an unregulated relationship with the EU in such an “uncertain and complicated” world.

Negotiations between Bern and Brussels over a new “framework agreement” are stalled, while an initiative from the conservative-right Swiss People’s Party to scrap the free movement of people accord with the EU would seriously undermine ties.

If voters reject that initiative on September 27, Bern will submit proposals to Brussels before the end of the year to resolve sticking points on the framework accord, Cassis tells SonntagsBlick.


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