Switzerland and the People's Republic of China have maintained bilateral relations since 1950. The two countries conduct dialogue on a wide range of issues, including the environment, development cooperation, human rights, migration, education, science and finance.
Bilateral relations Switzerland–China
Key aspects of diplomatic relations
Relations between Switzerland and China are good and cover a wide range of areas. In addition to regular official contacts, projects are carried out in partnership with cantons, municipalities and communes. At civil society level, lively exchanges take place between experts, academics and artists' associations. A total of 30 expert dialogues are in place (15 of which are ongoing).
In 2021, the Federal Council adopted a China strategy defining Switzerland's China policy objectives and measures for the period 2021–24, based on the foreign policy priorities of peace and human rights, prosperity, sustainability and digitalisation.
Since 2010, China has been Switzerland's biggest trading partner in Asia and third largest globally after the EU and the United States.
A bilateral free trade agreement was signed in Beijing in 2013 and entered into force on 1 July 2014. The agreement contains provisions on trade in goods and services, non-tariff barriers to trade, intellectual property protection, and sustainable trade and development. In addition, since 2013 the People's Bank of China and the State Secretariat for International Financial Matters (SIF) have been engaged in a regular dialogue on financial matters.
In 2019, Switzerland and China signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) on third-party market cooperation in connection with China's Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). Since 2007, Switzerland and China have also conducted a bilateral dialogue on intellectual property. Regular bilateral exchanges also take place in the context of the Switzerland-China Joint Economic Commission.
Cooperation in education, research and innovation
China is a significant partner for Switzerland in education, research and innovation.
Official dialogue in a number of areas allows for exchanges on topics of shared interest, facilitating and promoting projects.
Swissnex China, based in Shanghai since 2008, and the Swiss embassy in Beijing actively support Swiss stakeholders in the fields of education, research and innovation through networking, advice, promotion and inspiration.
Chinese researchers are eligible to apply for Swiss Government Excellence Scholarships. Chinese students make up the fourth largest community of foreign students in Switzerland.
Promoting human rights is a constitutionally mandated objective of Switzerland's foreign policy. Switzerland raises human rights issues in all bilateral and multilateral relations with China. In addition to specific consultations in the areas of labour law and international law, China and Switzerland have been conducting a human rights dialogue since 1991. The human rights dialogue focuses on the following:
- Criminal law, criminal procedure and the penal system
- Minorities and religious freedom
- Human rights defenders
- International human rights issues
Switzerland and China also maintain vibrant cultural relations. In 2010, Switzerland opened a liaison office of the Swiss Arts Council Pro Helvetia in Shanghai. The two countries signed an agreement on cultural cooperation in January 2017.
The 2013 bilateral agreement between China and Switzerland on the illicit import, export and repatriation of cultural goods has been instrumental in boosting cultural exchanges.
A series of joint projects were carried out in Switzerland and China in 2020 to mark the 70th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between the two countries.
Swiss nationals in China
At the end of 2021, there were 2,981 Swiss nationals living in China.
History of bilateral relations
The first official contacts between the two countries were made in 1906. A treaty of friendship was signed in 1918 formalising relations.
Switzerland recognised the People's Republic of China on 17 January 1950 – one of the first Western states to do so. Bilateral relations were rapidly expanded after 1979 following the launch of Deng Xiaoping's reform and opening-up policy. An MoU was signed in 2007 to increase high-level political consultations and strengthen bilateral relations in all areas. Since 2018, the head of the Federal Department of Foreign Affairs and China's foreign minister have held a strategic dialogue. In 2020, Switzerland and China celebrated the 70th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between the two countries.