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Li's visit 'milestone' for Sino-Swiss ties

Updated: 2013-05-23 16:45

BEIJING - Chinese Premier Li Keqiang's upcoming visit to Switzerland will be "a milestone in the development of relations" between the two countries, said Swiss Ambassador to China Jacques de Watteville.

During his first overseas trip as premier, Li is paying official visits to India, Pakistan, Switzerland and Germany from May 19 to 27.

Premier Li's visit is linked with the conclusion of a free trade agreement (FTA) between China and Switzerland, the ambassador said, adding that the agreement is "an important step in the development of bilateral relations."

In 2011, Switzerland became the first European country to start FTA negotiations with China.

According to China's Vice Commerce Minister Jiang Yaoping, China and Switzerland have concluded their ninth round of FTA talks and both hope to reach a mutually beneficial and high-quality agreement as soon as possible.

Ambassador de Watteville said the FTA with China "is of crucial importance".

"China is today the world's second economic power and the biggest market in the world. China is also today a global player and global power, and it has an important role to play not only in this part of the world, but globally," said the ambassador.

The conclusion of the FTA talks will certainly contribute to boosting trade relations and investment and opening new opportunities for businesses from both countries, as it will facilitate trade, reduce obstacles and simplify procedures, he said.

Since Switzerland recognized the People's Republic of China in the early 1950s, relations between the two countries have developed "strongly and broadly," according to the ambassador.

Bilateral relations between Switzerland and China have been "very good, broad and constructive," he said.

China is Switzerland's largest trading partner in Asia, while Switzerland is China's seventh largest trading partner and its sixth largest foreign investor in Europe. The bilateral trade volume reached $19.31 billion in 2012, up 12.8 percent year on year.

According to the ambassador, 900 branches of some 400 Swiss companies are present or active in China, while 65 Chinese companies have business in Switzerland.

He said he sees great potential for more Chinese investment, "because Switzerland is quite an attractive location for investment, especially for headquarters, research and development and commercial activities."

He also noted that in Switzerland, there is a strong interest in China.

"China is far away, people (in Switzerland) are willing to find out what is China (like) today," he said. "This creates a lot curiosity and interest, especially in relation with the very long and rich history of China."

The ambassador described the cultural lives of people in both Switzerland and China as "dynamic".

"A lot of Swiss artists like to perform in China and to be in touch with the Chinese public, and this creates a lot of opportunities to develop mutual understanding and cultural exchanges," he added.

In regards to students, de Watteville said about 1,200 Chinese students are studying in Switzerland, while roughly 1,000 Swiss students are studying in China.

Geneva became home to the first Confucius Institute in Switzerland in 2011, and Basel is soon to host the second. The ambassador said he believes this will contribute to cultural exchanges and mutual understanding between the two countries.

The two sides have also seen growing enthusiasm for each others' tourist attractions, according to the ambassador.

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