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China’s recent development raises hopes for global economic stabilization; Switzerland welcomes Chinese tourists: Swiss ambassador

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We can expect good development in trade between China and Switzerland in 2023. With regard to the global economy, the recent development in China raises hopes for stabilization, Swiss Ambassador to China Jürg Burri told the Global Times in an exclusive interview.

“What I am very excited about in the New Year is that we can soon welcome Chinese tourists back to Switzerland,” he told the Global Times on Tuesday.

Swiss Ambassador to China Jürg Burri Photo: Courtesy of the Swiss Embassy in ChinaSince China downgraded its COVID-19 management as of January 8, outbound tourism is gaining new momentum with many countries extending their warm welcome to Chinese travelers. 

From February 6, Chinese travel agencies and tour operators will be able to restart pilot outbound group tours and provide travelers with airline and hotel packages, according to a notice issued by the Chinese Ministry of Culture and Tourism on January 20. Switzerland is one of the 20 countries designated as pilot destinations for outbound group tours.

Burri noted that at present, there are no official restrictions or obstacles for tourists traveling to Switzerland. 

The Swiss government previously stated that travelers from China entering Switzerland will not be required to undergo compulsory testing for COVID-19, Reuters reported.

The Omicron variants circulating in China posed “only a small risk to the Swiss population and the Swiss health system,” said the Swiss government in a statement.

“I think we will see increasing numbers of visa applications in 2023,” Burri said. 

According to him, the Swiss Embassy in China is working hard on building back the capacity they had before the pandemic for processing these applications. 

“The situation will probably not recover immediately [and return] back to 2019 [levels]. However, it is one of our priorities that we are working on and we are taking it step by step,” he said.

In addition to the gradual recovery of outbound tourism, China also witnessed the revival of the domestic tourism sector as many scenic spots once again received a large number of tourists during the Spring Festival holidays. 

Personally, Burri traveled to Zhangjiajie, a famous Chinese sightseeing spot in Central China’s Hunan Province during the recently concluded holiday. 

The recent downgrading of COVID-19 measures in China made him optimistic about 2023 for stabilization of the global economy. 

“However, for a concurrent upswing, much depends on a speedy normalization of global supply chains and multilateral resolutions for multiple global issues, such as sovereign debt, energy, and climate crises. Overall, I start with an optimistic outlook into the Year of the Rabbit,” he said. 

Close economic bond 

At the invitation of Klaus Schwab, founder and executive chairman of the World Economic Forum, and the government of the Swiss Confederation, Chinese Vice Premier Liu He attended the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting 2023 and visited Switzerland from January 15 to 19.

Liu reaffirmed China’s commitment to all-round opening-up, international cooperation with other countries for world economic stability and development, and economic re-globalization, in his speech delivered at the forum.

He called for the upholding of the right principles and maintaining the effective international economic order, strengthening international macro policy coordination, and striking a good balance between inflation and growth. He also urged for a global response to climate change.

“It is a great tribute to the China-Switzerland relationship that Liu chose Switzerland for his first foreign visit after a major adjustment in China’s COVID policy and attended the World Economic Forum in Switzerland,” Burri said. 

“In his special address, Liu raised some very important points that showed that China and Switzerland share interests in many fields. For instance, Liu stressed the importance of rule of law and the focus on an innovation-driven economy. Further, Liu met with Federal Councillor Karin Keller-Sutter, Switzerland’s Minister of Finance, and both seized the opportunity to discuss priority topics regarding the China-Switzerland economic relationship. From my understanding, it was a fruitful exchange,” he noted.

For Burri, this year could be the year of rediscovering each other and both sides can benefit again from the direct contact experience. 

“We have around 1,000 Swiss companies here in China. This year will be the year of rediscovery and of re-knowing each other in a direct and personal way. Economic cooperation between the two countries will be more intense,” he said. 

Talking about how Switzerland views its relations with China at a time when the world is facing increasing uncertainties, Burri told the Global Times that China and the world are very closely interconnected through many types of relations, especially economic ties.

“China has trade partners in Europe, ASEAN, and the US, which is more or less like three packages. When I look at Switzerland, China is also our third trade partner. So I think the relationship is so important that we should listen to each other very carefully and that we should try to find out how we can make the most out of this relationship. We should evaluate all the possibilities that we have for good cooperation,” he said.

He added that Switzerland and China now have “very intense” economic cooperation.

“On the one side, there is trade. China is Switzerland’s No.3 trade partner. The trade has been mutually growing over past years. So when I look back to 2014, when the free trade agreement entered into force, the trade volume has increased by 90 percent since then. What’s interesting about this trade relationship is that it’s more or less balanced. So we can say each gives as much as it takes and each takes as much as it gives.”

Asked about whether it is hard to maintain close economic ties with China amid the current global political environment, the ambassador said that for many countries and especially for Switzerland, trade also has its own drivers.

“We are oriented toward opportunities that are fruitful for both sides. I think these opportunities are here and I think that business people in both countries are still looking for these opportunities and are trying to explore them,” he said.

He noted that an important field of cooperation between the two countries is in finance.

“We have the rather new instrument of the global stock connection between China and Switzerland and a very new phenomenon is that Chinese companies are putting their stocks through Global Exchange Depositary Receipts into the Swiss market in order to get investment from Switzerland into China. This is a new way of doing business. It opens many possibilities for both sides,” he said.

Fostering people-to-people ties

A new noodle restaurant in the Jungfrau region of Switzerland is decorated with traditional Chinese red lanterns in January 2023. Photo: XinhuaFrom 2006 to 2009, Burri served as the Deputy Head of Mission at the Embassy of Switzerland in Beijing. Talking about the changes that impressed him the most from a decade ago, he named the “incredible new infrastructure,” including the bullet train network.

“I think the high-speed rail network is something which is really big for China because it’s more environmentally friendly than traveling by airplane. In general, I find that the air quality in Beijing is better and the water quality is better.”

The Swiss diplomat frequently posts his experiences on China’s social media platform Sina Weibo, which he believes is an important platform to directly engage with Chinese people. He has more than 100,000 followers on Sina Weibo.

He said that as the new Swiss ambassador to China, his priority is to defend Switzerland’s interests in China in several fields including politics, economics, and people-to-people relations.

“Normally it should be political relations first, but in my case the order will be reversed because in 2025, we will celebrate 75 years of diplomatic relations between Switzerland and China, and that comes under political relations. In 2024, we will welcome the 10th anniversary of the free trade agreement (FTA) between Switzerland and China, which is under economic relations. Therefore, I hope this year will be the year of people-to-people relations,” he said.