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Swiss economics minister seeks closer trade ties with China

Swiss Economics Minister Pascal Couchepin met top Chinese government officials and opened a Swiss tourism office in Beijing Monday as part of a visit aimed at expanding Sino-Swiss business relations.

This content was published on November 8, 1999 - 13:54

Swiss Economics Minister Pascal Couchepin met top Chinese government officials and opened a Swiss tourism office in Beijing Monday as part of a visit aimed at expanding Sino-Swiss business relations.

Couchepin and a 20-strong delegation of top business leaders would like to see the discussions with Foreign Trade and Economic Cooperation Minister Shi Guangsheng, Finance Minister Xian Huaicheng and Central Bank Governor Dai Xianglong leading to better trade ties and easier market access for Swiss goods and services.

Insurance and tourism are two key sectors that Swiss captains of industry hope to expand in the coming years. Winterthur is currently the only Swiss insurance company allowed to operate in the Chinese market.

Couchepin formally opened a Swiss tourism office in the Chinese capital Monday, in a symbolic move that Swiss tourism officials hope will herald the start of a major business expansion in the world’s most populous market.
“Switzerland may now become a key destination for Chinese tourists visiting Europe,” Couchepin said during the inauguration ceremony.

The Swiss branch in Beijing is the first European tourism office allowed to open its doors to customers in China.

On Wednesday, the economics minister is to participate in a “Swiss Finance Day” in Beijing, an event organised by the Swiss embassy to boost business and trade relations.

Switzerland is one of the major direct investors in China, and Couchepin’s visit comes on the eve of Switzerland and China marking 50 years of formal diplomatic relations.
While Sino-Swiss relations have been fairly smooth in the past decades, the recent visit by Chinese President Jiang Zemin to Switzerland was overshadowed by vociferous protests over Tibet.

That public demonstration prompted a visibly upset Jiang to lecture the Swiss about respect and security. He said that, with the protests marring his official reception, Switzerland had lost a friend.

The state visit ended on a much more conciliatory note though, with the Swiss authorities conceding some protocol mistakes.

Amnesty International called on Couchepin to specifically address the human rights situation in China during his talks with government leaders.

Amnesty said that China was in breach of an international convention on political rights, which it signed in 1998. The human rights organisation said more than 70 dissidents had been detained by the Chinese authorities since Beijing signed the convention.

But Couchepin played down the human rights issue, saying that Switzerland would not lecture China and would respect the country’s tradition, culture and sensitivities.

“Friends can talk about many things. But first one has to create a climate of friendship,” Couchepin said.

From staff and wire reports.

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