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Swiss and Chinese consolidate relations

(swissinfo.ch)

Foreign Minister Micheline Calmy-Rey and her Chinese counterpart, Li Zhaoxing, are set to sign a "memorandum of understanding" between the two countries.

Calmy-Rey is at the start of a five-day visit to China to discuss bilateral relations and to open a new Swiss consulate in Guangzhou province, one of the country's most dynamic areas.

Calmy-Rey said the agreement – which aims to strengthen relations in important areas such as the economy, technology, migration and human rights – would improve the structure of the two countries' "already good" relations.

She said China was an important partner but underlined that Swiss foreign policy would not give "undue weight" to Beijing – Switzerland, she said, is also looking to build similar relations with other countries, such as India.

Calmy-Rey also on Friday signed bilateral accords on research and education with Chinese officials during talks in Beijing.

The education agreement signed during a meeting with the Chinese education minister, Zhou Ji, sets out new guidelines regulating the granting of scholarships and foresees the exchange of high-ranking delegations from universities and other educational institutes from both countries.

Human rights

Switzerland and China have a long history of collaboration economically and politically but the issue of human rights is a constant fly in the diplomatic ointment.

In 1999 Chinese President Jiang Zemin on a state visit to Bern in 1999 gave former cabinet minister Ruth Dreifuss a dressing down following a pro-Tibetan rally outside parliament.

On Friday a spokesman for the foreign ministry said Calmy-Rey had asked for information about an incident on September 30 when Chinese troops fired on 75 Tibetans fleeing the country's mountainous frontier into Nepal, killing a young Buddhist nun and a man in his twenties.

The shooting was captured on video by a group of European mountaineers in the area.

China has said the border guards warned the group and then fired in self-defence when members of the group attacked them. The video shows no such confrontation.

Details of Calmy-Rey's conversation were unknown and according to observers the translation for the Chinese journalists was said to be "vague".

Booming economy

The Swiss are most anxious not to miss out on the People's Republic's booming economy, whereas the Chinese are becoming increasingly interested in what the small, neutral alpine country has to offer.

Swiss exports to China, which has one of the world's fastest growing economies, have increased annually by 20 per cent and have more than doubled since 2002.

Direct investment by Switzerland in the country jumped by 12 per cent between 2003 and 2004.

This progress has been acknowledged by Beijing – two years ago it gave Switzerland its approved tourist destination rating, opening Switzerland to millions of Chinese tourists.

swissinfo with agencies

Key facts

China (without Hong Kong) is Switzerland's second strongest trading partner in Asia after Japan.
Swiss exports to China have risen from SFr415 million ($327 million) in 1990 to SFr3.1 billion (2004).
Chinese exports to Switzerland have risen from SFr418 million (1990) to SFr2.8 billion (2004).
Swiss direct investment in China (2004): $203 million.
There are around 300 Swiss companies operating in China.

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