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Swiss step up presence in China

Foreign Minister Micheline Calmy-Rey with new Swiss consul Werner E. Nievergelt

(swissinfo.ch)

Foreign Minister Micheline Calmy-Rey has inaugurated a new Swiss consulate in Guangzhou, one of China's most dynamic cities.

Calmy-Rey is currently visiting China to boost relations between Bern and Beijing. The Guangzhou consulate, opened on Sunday, brings the number of Swiss diplomatic representations in the country to four.

The new consulate is situated in one of the many skyscrapers that have mushroomed in the booming southern city of Guangzhou in the province of Guangdong.

Switzerland already has an embassy in Beijing and consulates in Shanghai and Hong Kong. Calmy-Rey said the choice of Guangzhou for the next consulate was not accidental.

"It is a motor for the economic development of the country," said the minister at the opening ceremony. "The consulate has above all the aim of promoting exchange and strengthening scientific, technological and cultural cooperation."

Guangdong, of which Guangzhou is the capital, has profited from the economic opening of China to become the most prosperous province in the communist country.

In 2005 it was estimated to have a gross domestic product (GDP) of more than $270 billion (SFr337 billion) – 11 per cent of the national total.

Switzerland, like many other countries, is keen not to let this opportunity slip through its fingers.

"Last year Swiss direct investment amounted to $347 million. It's still not enough but there is a big potential," said Calmy-Rey.

Tourism is also a sector that the Swiss are aiming to develop. "A third of Chinese tourists who come to Switzerland are from this province," Werner E. Nievergelt, the new Swiss consul, told swissinfo.

Swiss made

While in Guangzhou, Calmy-Rey also opened a new exhibition of Swiss design at the Guangdong Museum of Art, one of the most important of its kind in the People's Republic.

According to its curator Pierre Keller, director of the Vaud Cantonal School of Art based in Lausanne, the display offers an image of Switzerland being in step with modern times.

The quality of the "Swiss Made" label is being consolidated with the next generation of artists, he said. The exhibition, which has already been shown in Beijing and Shanghai, will reach Switzerland at the end of 2007.

In addition, Calmy-Rey met top local officials, including Zhang Dejiang, the first secretary of the Communist Party committee in Guangdong and the city's deputy mayor, Shen Bonian.

All parties hailed the long and solid friendship that has existed between Switzerland and China for more than 50 years.

Switzerland was one of the first western European countries to establish official relations with modern China, recognising the People's Republic in 1950.

Calmy-Rey's five-day trip, which at the beginning took in Beijing where she signed or agreed to set the basis for new accords between the two countries, is coming to an end. She will return to Switzerland on Monday.

swissinfo, Luigi Jorio in Guangzhou

Key facts

Switzerland has four diplomatic representations in China.
The embassy is in Beijing and there are consulates in Shanghai, Hong Kong and Guangzhou.
There are around 2,700 Swiss citizens living in China and around 300 Swiss companies who are active in the country.

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In brief

The consulate at Guangzhou will cover an area that includes the provinces of Guangdong, Fujian, and Hainan and Guanxi Zhuang Autonomous Region (150 million people).

The 15-strong staff will be busy with the promotion and safeguarding of Swiss interests in various sectors such as economy, commerce, culture and tourism. They will also help Swiss firms.

The consulate will work with local authorities, intuitions and organisations and will be responsible for issuing passports, visas and other documents. It will also host a branch of the Swiss Business Hub.

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