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Cassis – Wang phone conversation gives hope for resumption of Sino-Swiss FTA upgrade talks

Last Thursday (Nov 25), the Swiss Foreign Minister Ignazio Cassis on his way to China by airplane had to unexpectedly cancel his state visit with China’s State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi due to technical problems.

The meeting is the annually envisaged strategic dialogue established in 2017

  • Cassis wanted to present Switzerland’s new China strategy and discuss human rights issues with his counterpart. The NZZ reported that he also wanted to exchange on the entry restrictions for business travelers, students and tourists, economic relations such as the resumption of talks to upgrade the FTA, the upcoming Winter Olympic games in Beijing and possibly the Stock Connect.

Instead of a face-to-face meeting, the two had a telephone conversation

  • Cassis later tweeted that they talked about the relevance of multilateralism, the resumption of the Human Rights Dialogue and the responsibility of China as Olympic host for athletes’ rights.

  • As per a Xinhua report on this same phone conversation, however, both sides agreed to resist attempts to politicize sports.

  • Xinhua also reports that the two sides also agreed to start negotiations on the upgrade of the China-Switzerland Free Trade Agreement “as soon as possible”.

Reassuring Switzerland’s role as honest broker?

  • Not mentioned in the formal communiqué of either side, but Cassis’ remarks about Switzerland’s “special approach” towards China ahead of his trip to Beijing in an interview with the NZZ hint to the possibility that he also attempted to consolidate Switzerland’s geopolitical positioning as a neutral and bloc-free country able to act as honest broker in the face of geopolitical issues and for global goods. The urgency for such an undertaking could be to respond to some doubts expressed by Beijing interlocutors in view of Switzerland’s new China strategy and the context of hardening China policies by the EU as well as its member states.

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