“The Belt and Road Initiative will strengthen well-being and contribute to poverty reduction in concerned regions. It will improve ‘connectivity’ between Europe and Asia, and help develop trade and the exchange of people,” Swiss president Doris Leuthard told Xinhua in a recent interview.
Leuthard is among the heads of state and government leaders who accepted China’s invitation to attend the Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation slated for May 14 and 15 in Beijing.
The trip to China reflects Switzerland’s support for the Belt and Road Initiative. It also highlights the very positive relations prevailing between Switzerland and China, she said.
Leuthard noted that Switzerland was among the first non-Asian countries to become a member of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), whose mandate involves, amongst other things, financing infrastructure projects along the Belt and Road.
The improvement of transportation and communication links between Europe and Asia is also important for Switzerland, she said.
According to Leuthard, the Belt and Road Initiative has the potential to strengthen Sino-Swiss relations. By using the know-how and innovation of Swiss businesses, Switzerland’s private sector can play an important role in the implementation of infrastructure projects.
As an example, Switzerland boasts globally recognized expertise in the green energy sector, as well as in the construction of tunnels.
“Only a few months ago, we opened the world’s longest and most modern railway tunnel in the Swiss mountains,” Leuthard said.
Leuthard stressed however that the initiative must integrate meticulous risk management for it to succeed.
This entails respecting internationally recognized norms and standards, something Switzerland already encourages within the AIIB in terms of social and environmental benchmarks.
It’s also important to guarantee transparency with regards to project-financing mechanisms and legal measures guiding bidding procedures and attributions.
Finally, concerted planning on an international scale is crucial to carry out the projects in question.
Speaking of the relations between Switzerland and China, Leuthard said that they were characterized by “friendship and mutual respect.”
The state visit of China’s President Xi Jinping in January this year, she said, underscored the quality of bilateral relations, while highlighting that despite numerous differences “in terms of size, economic model and political system, healthy relations and successful cooperation is both possible and necessary”.
Switzerland has always shown a pioneering and innovative spirit when it comes to its relations with China.
The confederation was one of the first Western countries to recognize the People’s Republic of China in 1950, and among the first European countries to recognize China’s market economy status, Leuthard said.
Switzerland was also the first nation in continental Europe to establish a free-trade agreement with Asia’s economic powerhouse.
Today, China is Switzerland’s top trading partner in Asia, and its third biggest after the European Union and the United States.
“This pioneering character is indeed an important feature of the bilateral relations between our countries, and Switzerland counts on consolidating and pursuing these good relations,” the Swiss president said.
Switzerland and China are working together on a series of projects in areas of common interest such as culture, research and education, the environment and energy, finance, intellectual property and human rights.
Over 20 bilateral mechanisms of dialogue and cooperation are currently in force between Berne and Beijing.
“This highlights the maturity of our relationship and the trust that our governments have fostered. This is further reflected by the numerous high-level visits in both Switzerland and China,” she added.