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Swiss ambassador hails Chinese Olympics

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The Swiss ambassador to China, Dante Martinelli, tells swissinfo that the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games will be a great opportunity for both China and Switzerland.

This content was published on August 19, 2007 - 10:35

Martinelli said that China would be able to address delicate issues such as human rights and the environment. He also hopes that Switzerland can boost its image in the country.

The ambassador, who has been in the post since 2004, has been hosting a delegation from Swiss Olympic, Switzerland's national Olympic committee.

Officials were in the Chinese capital for a meeting organised by the Chinese Olympic Committee, one year before the Games begin.

China officially launched the countdown for next year's Summer Olympics on August 8, with a dazzling ceremony in Beijing - an event Martinelli said showed how important the games were for the Asian country.

swissinfo: How significant was the meeting to you as the Swiss ambassador to China?

Dante Martinelli: We are very lucky to be in a country which is organising the Olympic Games and it's even more extraordinary because it's China. Although the Swiss Olympic Committee will be responsible for most of the organisation, we will have a lot of extra work at the embassy.

I think that I will personally have to deal with many enquiries. Unfortunately, I won't have much time to watch the sporting events, unless I am accompanying representatives of the Swiss government who come over [for the Games].

swissinfo: Are Switzerland and Swiss companies doing enough to capitalise on the opportunities offered by the Olympic Games?

D.M.: I think the Games are a universal celebration and an event which has an extraordinary global resonance. The Olympic Games in China are above all going to benefit the country. This will allow the Chinese to present themselves to the outside world in a new light.

But the Games are also an opportunity for Switzerland and moreover, we have already launched a huge image promotion campaign this year which will run until 2011.

This is because in addition to organising the 2008 Olympics, China is hosting the World Expo in Shanghai in 2010. We intend to maximise these two platforms as ways of presenting Switzerland to China.

swissinfo: China has promised that the Games will be "green". Is this really possible given that an impenetrable layer of smog hangs over Beijing day after day?

D.M.: The environment is a real problem in China, especially the quality of air and water. The Chinese government is aware of this and has made the issue one of its priorities.

As for the Games, since they are our main concern at present, it will be difficult for foreign athletes to perform if the air quality isn't good enough. The organising committee has announced that improvements will be made next year. We look forward to them.

swissinfo: It's impossible to talk about the Beijing Games without mentioning calls from several human rights organisations to boycott the event, notably over the Tibet issue and China's role in Sudan. What is your position?

D.M.: The Games are, as I have previously said, an opportunity for China to show iis considerable achievements to the world. China's less illustrious side will also be visible at this time.

We are of course expecting China to make improvements in this area and that is nothing new. Switzerland was the first country to start a bilateral dialogue on human rights with China way back in 1991. We are hoping that China will seize this opportunity to make some progress in this area too.

Now, is a boycott really the best way to advance the cause of human rights? I am convinced that dialogue and being open can result in great progress in line with the Olympic spirit.

swissinfo-interview: Mathias Froidevaux in Beijing

Career

Dante Martinelli's full title is Ambassador extraordinary and plenipotentiary of Switzerland in the People's Republic of China, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, and Mongolia, with residence in Beijing. He has held the post since November 2004.

Before that he was ambassador to the European Union in Brussels. He has also been the ambassador to Italy, Malta and San Marino, with residence in the Italian capital, Rome.

Born in Italian-speaking Ticino in 1947, Martinelli studied in Paris and joined the Swiss diplomatic service in 1979.

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Swiss-Chinese relations

Switzerland is one of only a few countries which has a trade surplus with China. China mainly exports textiles, machines, toys and sports equipment to Switzerland. Switzerland exports machines, as well as pharmaceutical and chemical products to China.

The relationship is less balanced when it comes to investment. Swiss companies are estimated to have invested around SFr5 billion ($4.11 billion) in recent years and to have created 55,000 jobs in China. However, it is hard to quantify Chinese investments in Switzerland are rare. (Source: State Secretariat for Economic Affairs).

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