Switzerland and China mark 50 years of friendly relations

Former Swiss president, Max Petitpierre, at a meeting with Zhou Enlai in 1973 Keystone

Senior officials from Switzerland and China are this week attending official celebrations marking 50 years of diplomatic relations between the two countries.

This content was published on September 11, 2000 - 16:52

Switzerland was one of the first western countries to establish diplomatic relations with China's communist government.

The figure behind the far-sighted decision, which has resulted in five decades of friendship and cooperation between the two countries, was the then foreign minister, Max Petitpierre.

In a speech to mark the 30th anniversary of diplomatic relations, the foreign minister, Pierre Graber, hailed "the vision" of the former Swiss government and the "courage" shown by his predecessor. Graber said Petitpierre had "led the cabinet to discard its usually slow and cautious approach".

Of Switzerland's Alpine neighbours, France only forged diplomatic ties with China in 1964, while Italy waited until 1970, followed a year later by Austria and by Germany in 1972. On the world stage, the United States did not establish diplomatic ties with Beijing until 1979.

The visit by the Swiss president, Adolf Ogi, to China is the latest in a long series of trips by Swiss ministers, stretching back to Graber's historic first visit in 1974.

Twenty years earlier, in 1954, the Chinese prime minister, Zhou Enlai, made a groundbreaking visit to Switzerland by a Chinese leader.

The solid ties between the two countries are reflected in the steady growth in trade, which increased from SFr167 million in 1951 to SFr2.5 billion in 1998. Over the same period, Swiss investments in China have reached more than SFr2 billion.

Relations were further cemented after 1979 as a result of the economic and political reforms implemented by Deng Xiaoping. The 20 or so bilateral accords governing ties between the two countries were all sealed in the 1980s.

In 1980, the elevator company, Schindler, founded the first Swiss-Chinese joint venture, the Schindler-China Elevator Company. There are now more than 260 Swiss joint-venture companies in China.

The last few years have witnessed a further consolidation of bilateral relations. In 1996, Jean-Pascal Delamuraz became the first Swiss president to visit China, and three years later Jiang Zemin undertook the first visit to Switzerland by a Chinese president.

That visit was marred by a vociferous rooftop protest by pro-Tibetan groups, which coincided with Jiang's arrival at the parliament in Berne. Ogi's visit to Beijing indicates that the diplomatic conflict, provoked by that incident, was short-lived.

swissinfo with agencies

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