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Swiss science and business cement China ties

Couchepin discussed trade with Chinese premier Wen Jiabao Keystone

Swiss President Pascal Couchepin has wrapped up a five-day visit to China, sealing cooperation between Beijing and Bern in science, technology, tourism and business.

This content was published on November 24, 2003 - 12:36

But Couchepin has come under fire at home for not pressing the Chinese harder on the thorny question of human rights.

The Swiss president said the issue of human rights had been broached during his trip, adding that two prison service officials would be visiting China next month to help train guards.

A member of his entourage added that discussions about human rights in this context had been “frank”, although the parties had agreed to differ.

However, Antoine Kernen of the Graduate Institute of Development Studies in Geneva said the Swiss approach hardly constituted meaningful progress.

“It’s all very well training prison guards, but it would have been preferable to work at grassroots level in Chinese society, like Nordic countries do, supporting legal advice centres for the public,” he said.

Fruitful trip

Despite the criticism, the government is clearly viewing Couchepin’s whistle-stop tour as a success, especially in the business domain.

On his last day, the Swiss president inaugurated the Swiss Center in Shanghai, which aims to facilitate Swiss-Chinese trade.

The non-profit establishment should ease the entry of Swiss small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) to the Chinese market, offering advice, smoothing relations with the government and local businesses, and providing office space.

Nine SMEs have already set up home within the centre’s walls. The facility has SFr200,000 ($154,000) at its disposal, some of which has been provided by the Swiss government.

Investment

Shanghai, which is home to 200 Swiss firms, counts 300 Swiss residents among a population of more than 13 million.

In a significant boost for Swiss tourism, Switzerland was granted Approved Destination Status by the Chinese government.

Coming into effect at the start of 2004, the agreement will allow Chinese nationals to travel to Switzerland without permission from the Chinese authorities.

The Swiss tourism industry hopes this could lead to more than 300,000 overnight stays in 2006.

The Swiss president also signed a memorandum of understanding on improving the transfer of science and technology between the two countries.

swissinfo with agencies

In brief

Swiss President Pascal Couchepin has finished a five-day tour of China, which focused primarily on business matters.

He was criticised for not to putting China’s human rights record under closer scrutiny.

During the trip, Couchepin negotiated Approved Status Destination for Switzerland.

The president also signed a science and technology transfer agreement with the Chinese government.

Couchepin also inaugurated the Swiss Center in Shanghai to promote SMEs.

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