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Defence minister completes Asian tour of duty

Schmid visits a railway station near the North-South Korean border Keystone

Swiss Defence Minister Samuel Schmid has ended a weeklong trip to China and South Korea.

His Asian visit allowed him to broach strategic cooperation with the Chinese as well as delve into the difficult relationship between North and South Korea.

Schmid’s three days on the Korean peninsula were mainly spent learning more about the fragile ties between the North and the South, according to the Swiss ambassador in Seoul, Christian Hauswirth.

On Wednesday, the defence minister visited the five Swiss military observers – including Switzerland’s only general – who are part of the Neutral Nations Supervisory Commission in Korea.

The Swiss work alongside Swedish and occasionally Polish military personnel in the truce village of Panmunjom, which is on the demarcation line separating North and South Korea.

On Thursday, Schmid held talks with his South Korean counterpart, Yoon Kwang Ung.

Discussions focused on the ties between North and South as well as the chances of a resumption of the suspended six-way talks between the two Koreas, the United States, China, Japan and Russia over Pyongyang’s controversial nuclear programme.

No progress was made this week in bilateral talks between the two Koreas. On Friday, South Korea rejected North Korea’s demand at high-level military talks that the western sea border dividing the states be redrawn.

The North had demanded at the talks, which began on Thursday in Panmunjom, that the two sides agree to redraw their sea border, where regular clashes have taken place.

The communist North doesn’t recognize the border demarcated by the United Nations after the 1950-53 Korean War, which ended in a cease-fire, not a peace treaty.

Surprise meeting

Earlier in the week, the defence minister was in China, where he held talks with his Chinese counterpart Cao Gangchuan on Monday with a view to increasing strategic discussions between the two countries.

But his programme was changed on Tuesday with an unscheduled meeting with Chinese President Hu Jintao.

Media reports said the Chinese leader used the opportunity to attack a decision by Taiwan, announced on Monday, to scrap a council on eventual unification and its 15-year-old unification guidelines.

Hu said that any attempt to split Taiwan from China was doomed to failure.

Schmid reportedly told the Chinese president that he believed in the importance of dialogue between Beijing and Taipei.

A Swiss defence ministry spokesman said the minister had broached the subject of human rights with Hu. The talks also covered the North Korean and Iranian nuclear programmes.

swissinfo with agencies

Switzerland was one of the first western countries to establish official relations with China in 1950.

Swiss troops have been patrolling the demilitarised zone between South and North Korea since 1953.

Both countries are among Switzerland’s top five trading partners in Asia. Swiss exports to China totalled SFr3 billion ($2.3 billion) in 2004 and those to South Korea totalled SFr1.3 billion in 2004.

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SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR

SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR