Ignazio Cassis on official visit to Asia

From 5 to 8 February 2024, Federal Councillor Ignazio Cassis will travel to Asia, a region that is becoming increasingly significant for Switzerland. His journey will take him to four nations – India, South Korea, China, and the Philippines – where he will conduct numerous ministerial meetings. Mr Cassis' trip marks the resumption of the annual strategic dialogue between the foreign ministers of Switzerland and China. This article presents five questions and answers that provide insights into Swiss–Chinese relations, followed by facts and figures on Switzerland's long-standing ties with India, the Philippines and South Korea.


One trip, four countries, as many meetings with ministers and one region: Asia. The working visits of the Head of the FDFA in short. © FDFA

It might surprise you to learn that the first Swiss representation in Asia was established as far back as 1862, in the capital of the Philippines, Manila. Or that a telegram sent over 70 years ago laid the groundwork for diplomatic ties between Switzerland and China. Each time the head of the FDFA undertakes an official trip abroad, they represent the rich legacy of Switzerland's diplomatic ties with countries around the world. Mr Cassis's trip to Asia builds on 74 years of diplomatic ties with China, 75 years with India, and over 60 years with the Philippines and South Korea. Join us on a journey through the history of these long-standing diplomatic relations, starting with China.

Q&A on Swiss–Chinese relations

In a hall, the flags of Switzerland and China can be seen in the background. To the right and left of the room, delegations from the two countries are seated at a table.
Federal Councillor Cassis' visit to the Chinese capital is part of the annual strategic dialogue between the ministers of foreign affairs. © Keystone

Mr Cassis's first stop is Beijing, where he will meet with Wang Yi, director of the Central Foreign Affairs Commission Office of the Communist Party and minister of foreign affairs of the People's Republic of China. This visit is part of the annual strategic dialogue between the two countries' foreign ministers. The following Q&A provides insights into Sino–Swiss relations and explains what the term 'strategic dialogue' means.

What does the annual strategic dialogue between Switzerland and China involve?

Relations between Switzerland and China are based on an 'innovative strategic partnership' that has led to the establishment of multiple channels for dialogue. Among these, the strategic dialogue between the foreign ministers of the two countries stands out. This annual meeting is designed to address current issues and themes that are integral to bilateral relations and are embedded in the Federal Council's China Strategy. The visit by the head of the FDFA marks the renewed use of this key diplomatic instrument. His upcoming meeting with Mr Wang Yi will be the third strategic dialogue since they were suspended in 2019 because of the pandemic. A critical and constructive approach that facilitates the discussion of differences in values between the two countries is the cornerstone of the strategic dialogue. At this time of geopolitical tension and polarisation, this meeting is of critical importance to Swiss foreign policy. 

Why has the Federal Council adopted a China Strategy 2021–24? Are there any plans to update it in the near future or will it remain unchanged?

Relations between Switzerland and the People's Republic of China are constantly evolving. China's role in the world has changed dramatically. Most countries around the world have diplomatic ties with China. With a dedicated strategy, the Federal Council wanted to ensure the coherence of its foreign policy by identifying four priorities: peace and security, prosperity, sustainability and digitalisation.

China is an important partner in economic and scientific cooperation. Global advancements in these areas require respect for the principles of multilateralism and the maintenance of a rules-based international order. Upholding fundamental human rights is paramount for Switzerland, including in its dealings with China, and is a vital component of the strategy. Since the initial strategy was adopted in 2021, the global landscape has been dramatically reshaped by the pandemic and the ensuing escalation of geopolitical tensions. Following a mid-term review in 2023, the objectives of the current strategy will be updated in 2024. Dialogue will remain a central element of our foreign policy towards China. 

Why does Switzerland engage in a human rights dialogue with China? What outcomes does the dialogue yield?

The 17th round of the human rights dialogue between Switzerland and China took place in Switzerland on 3 and 4 July 2023. Switzerland is strongly committed to the universal protection of human rights, both in China and in the rest of the world. Discussions with the Chinese delegation, comprising representatives from various ministries, covered a range of priority issues. These included civil and political rights, economic, social and cultural rights, the rights of national, ethnic, religious and linguistic minorities, and the rights of women and LGBTI people.

China is keen to understand Switzerland's political, economic, and cultural stances and actions. However, like all nations, China's foreign policy is geared towards protecting its own interests, which do not always align with Swiss values, particularly in relation to human rights. That is why Switzerland proceeds step by step: for example, it engages in exchanges between Swiss and Chinese specialists on prison management aimed at improving prison conditions in China. More information: Human rights dialogue with China: instruments of Swiss diplomacy

Dialogue is merely one tool in the Swiss diplomatic arsenal for human rights. Switzerland also takes bilateral initiatives linked to specific cases and conducts high-level meetings. The Swiss embassy in Beijing plays a pivotal role in these efforts. It frequently intervenes in situations where human rights defenders or lawyers have been sentenced. 

When did Switzerland establish diplomatic relations with China?

Over 70 years ago, a telegram laid the groundwork for diplomatic ties between Switzerland and China. On 17 January 1950, Max Petitpierre, the then President of the Swiss Confederation, wrote a letter to Chinese President Mao Zedong, expressing Switzerland's desire to establish cooperative relations with the People's Republic. Diplomatic relations between the two nations have continued to develop ever since, characterised by openness and mutual respect, despite their political, social and economic differences. Since 2010, China has been Switzerland's main trading partner in Asia and its third-largest globally after the European Union and the United States. Switzerland is also among some 60 countries that have established a strategic partnership with China.

Key facts and figures on Switzerland–China relations

  • 5 Swiss representations in China
  • 17 ministerial-level meetings since 2016
  • over 50 cooperation agreements 
  • 75 years of diplomatic relations between Switzerland and China in 2025

Switzerland and the Philippines: a shared commitment

Although Switzerland maintains a regular political dialogue with the Philippines, the last official visit by a federal councillor to this increasingly important South East Asian partner took place in 2008. The first Swiss representation in the Philippines was opened in Manila in 1862, where the Swiss embassy is still located.  The embassy serves as a point of reference for the approximately 4,200 Swiss nationals living in the Philippines. This year, Switzerland and the Philippines celebrate 67 years of diplomatic relations.

Ignazio Cassis and Enrique Manalo are sitting on two chairs. Behind them the flags of their respective countries.
During his stop in Manila, Federal Councillor Ignazio Cassis met with Philippine Foreign Affairs Minister Enrique Manalo. © Keystone

Mr Cassis's visit to Manila will include a meeting with the Philippine Secretary of Foreign Affairs Enrique Manalo. Relations between the two countries are based not only on economic exchanges but also on a shared commitment to peace. Switzerland has chaired the Transitional Justice and Reconciliation Commission for the peace process in the Bangsamoro region. The commission was established following the conclusion, on 27 March 2014, of the Bangsamoro peace accord between the Philippine government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front which ended a conflict that had raged since 1970 and cost over 150,000 lives. 

Press release: Ignazio Cassis visits the Philippines: conclusion of a tour to position Switzerland in Asia

Visit to New Delhi: 75 years of Swiss–Indian friendship

Home to roughly 1.9 billion people, South Asia is the most populous sub-region of the Asian continent. In 2024, Switzerland and India celebrate 75 years of diplomatic relations. The agreement, signed following India's independence, spoke of "enduring friendship and peace among peoples". Jawaharlal Nehru, the Indian prime minister at the time, was already envisioning a free trade agreement between the two countries. In January 2024, after several years of discussions, India and Switzerland agreed on the broad outlines of a free trade agreement.

Ignazio Cassis and Subrahmanyam Jaishankar shake hands in front of the flags of their respective countries.
Federal Councillor Cassis met Indian Foreign Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar in New Delhi. © FDFA

Beyond the economic dimension, Switzerland is keen to deepen its relations with India on a broader basis. The meeting between Mr Cassis and Minister of External Affairs Subrahmanyam Jaishankar will address multilateral issues, including current geopolitical challenges, and bilateral matters. The two countries share a common vision of significant opportunities for cooperation in the fields of education, research and innovation. An initial dialogue on digitalisation has already taken place. The Swissnex hub in Bangalore has launched the Innovation Platform project which targets health, sustainability and digital transformation.

The strong ties between the two nations are further underscored by the record number of Schengen visas issued by the Swiss representation in New Delhi: 200,000 in 2023!

Republic of Korea: partner in the UN Security Council

Group photo with Ignazio Cassis and the staff of the Swiss Embassy in Seoul.
The staff of the Swiss Embassy in Seoul received a visit from the Head of the FDFA. They pose in front of the Embassy building, which uses solar and geothermal energy: a step towards sustainability! © FDFA

In Seoul, the capital of the Republic of Korea, Federal Councillor Cassis will meet the new South Korean Foreign Minister, Cho Tae-yul, for the first time. Since the beginning of the year, the Republic of Korea is a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council. Switzerland and the Republic of Korea is therefore simultaneously represented on the Security Council in 2024.

For 70 years, Switzerland has been an active member of the Neutral Nations Supervisory Commission in Korea (NNSC), set up following the 1953 ceasefire. This institutional military presence, deployed on the border between the two Koreas, is responsible for monitoring the ceasefire. It is the Swiss army's oldest peacekeeping mission.

Start of page