A relationship of many firsts
China and Switzerland open a new chapter to promote multilateralism and free trade, and contribute to improving global governance and addressing various challenges
The landscape in Switzerland is picturesque in September, a good season to mark the 70th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic ties between China and Switzerland.
The two countries decided to break the ice when the then-president of the Swiss Confederation, Max Petitpierre, wrote to Chairman Mao Zedong in January 1950 to give recognition to New China. Switzerland became the first Western country to recognize the People's Republic of China and establish diplomatic relations on Sept 14 that year.
The past 70 years have witnessed friendly exchanges between the two countries. No matter how the international situation changes, China-Switzerland ties have always moved steadily forward along the path blazed by great state leaders of the elder generation. Their practical cooperation in various fields has yielded fruitful results.
Over the past seven decades, China and Switzerland have always adhered to the principle of equality and mutual respect in developing bilateral relations. They regard each other as important and equal members of the international community and respect each other's development path and national conditions, although there are great differences in size, social systems and development stages.
Their efforts at seeking common ground while shelving differences and enhancing mutual trust have made China-Switzerland relations an example of friendly cooperation between countries with different social systems.
Close attention and promotion by state leaders, especially President Xi Jinping's state visit to Switzerland in 2017, have fast-tracked the development of bilateral relations, offering more opportunities for their innovative strategic partnership.
The two countries have so far established nearly 40 dialogue mechanisms on the basis of mutual respect and successfully carried out two strategic dialogues for their foreign ministers. China-Switzerland cooperation in the Belt and Road Initiative has achieved fruitful results, especially with regard to the facilitation of trade and financial transactions.
Switzerland has taken the lead in participating in every step of China's development. After China's reform and opening-up, Switzerland's watches were among the first imported products in the Chinese market and Swiss entrepreneurs set up China's first industrial joint venture.
Meanwhile, Switzerland was among the first European countries to recognize China's market economy status and the first continental European country that signed a free trade agreement with China. It was also a founding member of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank and the first country to establish an innovative strategic partnership with China.
After China rolled out policies for wider opening-up, UBS Securities, a Swiss financial enterprise, became the first foreign-owned securities company in China. These "firsts" not only demonstrate the courage of the two countries to seize development opportunities, but also fundamentally reflect their deepening mutual trust and mutual benefit.
The two countries have been constantly adhering to the principles of pragmatic cooperation, mutual benefits and win-win results over the past 70 years. In the first year of their diplomatic relationship, 1950, the bilateral trade volume was $6 million. Now China has been Switzerland's third largest trading partner for six consecutive years. The bilateral FTA that took effect in 2014 continued to bring about a large amount of dividends and drove the bilateral trade volume up to $31.8 billion in 2019.
In addition to trade, mutually beneficial cooperation in science and technology, investment and finance has also been fruitful. Also thousands of Chinese students further their studies in Switzerland and Switzerland received an average of 1.5 million visits from China every year.
The friendly cooperation between the two countries is demonstrated not only in the fields mentioned above, but also in their helping each other in the face of adversity. Since the beginning of this year, the governments and people of both countries have strengthened communication and helped each other in the face of the novel coronavirus outbreak.
The president of the Swiss Confederation Simonetta Sommaruga wrote a letter to her Chinese counterpart expressing her condolences, and her country provided valuable moral support and material assistance to the Chinese people during the critical period of China's fight against the virus.
After the virus broke out in Switzerland, the Chinese government and people took timely action to provide the country with supplies of needed medical equipment through official and private channels while offering the latest diagnosis and treatment plan to the Swiss side. Officials and experts in the two countries exchanged experiences via online links. The concept of a global community of health for all advocated by China has been fully demonstrated in the joint efforts of the two countries in the anti-pandemic battle.
Seventy years ago, the international environment that New China faced was very harsh, but Switzerland decided to establish diplomatic relations, reflecting the political courage and strategic vision of the then-Swiss leaders.
Since today's world is facing unprecedented challenges, economic globalization is encountering a countercurrent, with unilateralism and populism on the rise, and the international order seriously impacted, the China-Switzerland ties are facing new challenges and opportunities.
Standing at a new historical starting point, the Chinese side believes that Switzerland will demonstrate its strategic wisdom and courage once again, keep pace with the times and continue to develop its relations with China in a forward-looking manner.
China is willing to work with the Swiss side under their innovative strategic partnership to further deepen mutually beneficial economic, trade, finance and science and technology cooperation, and to continue to release the potential of their cooperation in the Belt and Road construction and make the common interests to better benefit the two peoples.
At the same time, China will also join hands with Switzerland to continue to promote multilateralism and free trade, and contribute to further improving global governance and jointly address various challenges facing mankind.
The author is the Chinese ambassador to Switzerland. The author contributed this article to China Watch, a think tank powered by China Daily. The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.