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Swiss consolidate bilateral ties with China

(Keystone)

Foreign Minister Micheline Calmy-Rey says China is prepared to build on long-standing bilateral relations with Switzerland, after a five-day visit to the Far East.

She held talks with government representatives, even touching on sensitive issues such as human rights, and opened a new Swiss consulate in Guangdong province.

It was Calmy-Rey's second trip to China as foreign minister and was aimed at consolidating relations that began more than 50 years ago.

During her visit both sides signed an agreement to regulate scholarships and the exchange of high-ranking delegations from universities and other educational institutes.

"I'm highly satisfied with the visit. China confirmed that is taking an [active] interest in Switzerland," Calmy-Rey told swissinfo.

She added that the agreement would improve the nature of relations, which were "already good".

Her comments were echoed by Massimo Baggi from the State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (Seco) who accompanied the foreign minister on her trip.

"The accords with China both on the bilateral and the multilateral levels work fine. We are keen to tackle new challenges such as better protection for intellectual property," Baggi said. He added he was pleased to see that bilateral economic ties were dynamic.

New consulate

On Sunday Calmy-Rey opened a new Swiss consulate in Guangzhou – the fourth such diplomatic representation in China after the capital, Beijing, Shanghai and Hong Kong.

"With our consulate general in Canton [Guangzhou] we hope to boost Switzerland's presence in a high-tech region," she said.

Calmy-Rey made it clear that she would have liked to take relations with China a step further and sign a memorandum of understanding covering a series of sectors including trade, human rights, environment and technology.

She dismissed allegations published in an article of a Swiss Sunday newspaper that she was acting without the consent of the cabinet.

"It's not true that I was pushing for a framework agreement to be signed with China at all costs. Such an accord was not even part of the aims of the visit," she explained.

Calmy-Rey said she won pledges from the Chinese government that they were aware of the situation of the Tibetan community living in exile in Switzerland.

"The Tibetans in Switzerland can rest assured that I brought their concerns to the attention of the Chinese authorities," she added.

Switzerland and China started a dialogue on human rights issues in 1991 but concrete results have been limited so far.

Observers point out this might be due to the fact that Switzerland is not determined enough. However this could also be related to China's specific situation with a fast growing economy but a society which isn't keeping pace with development.

swissinfo, Luigi Jorio in Guangzhou

In brief

Switzerland was one of the first western states to recognise the People's Republic of China in 1950.

The first Chinese leader to visit Switzerland was Prime Minister Zhou Enlai in 1954.

In 1996, Swiss Economics Minister Jean-Pascal Delamuraz became the first cabinet minister to travel to China for an official visit.

Bilateral relations were temporarily tarnished after the visiting President Jiang Zemin was booed by exiled Tibetans in Bern in 1999.

But ties were patched up a few months later and visits by five different cabinet ministers over the past seven years.

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Swiss Design Now

The opening of the new Swiss consulate in Guangzhou coincided with a major show of Swiss design in the city.

A series of colourful and modern objects were on display in the Fine Arts Museum of Guangzhou. They included the famous Swiss army pocket knife and wristwatches.

Swiss Design Now, curated by Pierre Keller of the Arts School in Lausanne, was previously shown in Shanghai (2005) and in Beijing (September 2006). The exhibition will also come to Switzerland at the end of next year.

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