Switzerland Should ‘Robustly’ Defend Values, Interests in Relation to China: Foreign Minister

August 5, 2020 Updated: August 5, 2020

For Switzerland, doing business with the Chinese regime to “emancipate itself a little from Europe” did not work out as expected, a Swiss government minister has said.

Ignazio Cassis, a member of Federal Council and the foreign minister of Switzerland, recently told Swiss newspaper SonntagsBlick that Switzerland’s trading relationship with China has been “more turbulent” than the Swiss government thought it would be.

Switzerland, which is not a member of the European Union (EU), became the first continental European country to sign a free-trade agreement with Beijing in 2013, hoping to “emancipate itself [Switzerland] a little from Europe,” the foreign minister said.

However, now that “human rights violations are increasing,” he realized that the Chinese regime is not like Switzerland’s other trading partners, such as the EU countries, which share “important common basic values” with Switzerland.

A Changing China

Cassis looked back at Switzerland’s 70-year relationship with China, saying it had always aimed for a “constructive but critical” relationship in the hope of encouraging political change in the communist state.

“First we establish economic relationships, then we talk about human rights,” he said, a common formula that the West has adopted.

But the trend in recent years has seen the Chinese regime increasing its grip on power rather than lessening it.

“We are seeing China stray from the path of openness,” the foreign minister said.

With the passing of the draconian National Security Law in Hong Kong, the Chinese regime has effectively violated the principle of “one country, two systems;” this would affect many Swiss companies that have invested there, Cassis said.

“This means that Switzerland, too, must defend its interests and values more robustly, for example by strengthening international law and the multilateral system.”

In such an uncertain and complicated world, Cassis said, Switzerland cannot afford an unregulated relationship with the EU.

At the moment, the progress of the negotiations between Switzerland and the European Commission on an institutional framework agreement is held up due to disagreement on the freedom of movement of EU citizens. A new version of the agreement is proposed. Cassis said that if Swiss voters reject the proposal on Sept. 27, Bern will submit new proposals to Brussels by the end of the year.

Reactions

When asked about the Swiss Foreign Minister’s remarks, Wang Wenbin, a spokesperson for the Chinese Foreign Ministry, said on Monday that what happens in Hong Kong is China’s internal affairs, and that foreign nations have no rights to interfere.

Political commentator Wang Longmeng was a survivor of the Tiananmen massacre in 1989. He has been in exile in France for 20 years.

Wang told Radio Free Asia that the remarks from the Swiss foreign minister, a country that rarely speaks up on human rights issues in China, indicates that European countries will no longer stay silent.

“Swiss Foreign Minister Cassis pointed out the essence of the matter. Many Western countries hoped economic openness in China would bring political evolution, but they [now] see with their own eyes that China [the Chinese Communist Party] is extending its grip of dictatorship into Hong Kong and the whole world. The threat that CCP poses to the Western counties far outweighs the economic benefits they got. Now that the Western world recognized this, they should retaliate without hesitation,” Wang said.

Wang said that the prompt response by the Chinese Foreign Ministry indicates that the condemnation from Switzerland was “destructive” to the CCP.

If CCP members and collaborators have offshore wealth in Switzerland, he said, then the “freezing [of their] assets” would be their worst fear if Switzerland and the EU join the United States in sanctioning human rights violators such as CCP members and Hong Kong officials.