Bilateral relations Switzerland–China

Since 2010 China has been Switzerland's most important trading partner in Asia. The two countries maintain dialogue in more than 30 areas, including the environment and sustainable development, development cooperation, human rights and migration, education and science, and finance. Switzerland and the People's Republic of China have maintained bilateral relations since 1950. 

Key aspects of diplomatic relations

In 2007 Switzerland and China signed an memorandum of understanding (MoU) to intensify high-level political consultations and strengthen bilateral relations in different areas. Partnership projects are going on between cantons and cities. In addition, there are lively exchanges between various experts, academic institutions and artists' associations.

Switzerland and China work together in the area of environment and climate change and have institutionalised cooperation through MoUs and concrete projects.

In 2016 the Sino-Swiss innovative strategic partnership was established. In April 2018, the two countries held the first edition of the strategic dialogue and introduced an innovative high-level strategic platform.

Treaty database

China, official

Government of China

Economic relations

Since 2010 China has been Switzerland's most important trading partner in Asia and the third-largest globally after the EU and the United States. The Sino-Swiss free trade agreement was signed in July 2013 and came into effect one year later.

The agreement contains provisions on trade in goods, non-tariff barriers, trade in services, the protection of intellectual property, and trade and sustainable development. A parallel agreement on labour and employment-related matters was also concluded.

In May 2013 an memorandum of understanding (MoU) was signed to mark the start of a bilateral dialogue on financial matters between the People’s Bank of China and the State Secretariat for Financial Matters.

Free trade agreement with China, State Secretariat for Economic Affairs SECO

Information on countries, State Secretariat for Economic Affairs SECO

Trade promotion, Switzerland Global Enterprise SGE

Cooperation in education, research and innovation

China is among the non-European nations designated as a priority country for research cooperation in the Swiss government's Dispatch on the Promotion of Education, Research and Innovation in 2008−2011 and the 2010 international strategy on education, research and education.

Bilateral research programmes have been set up and exchanges in innovation and education are being stepped up. Swiss Government Excellence Scholarships support international contacts among researchers. Chinese students comprise the largest group of non-European students in Switzerland.

Since 2008 Shanghai has been a swissnex location, supporting international activities related to education, research and innovation.

The Federal Council Dispatch on Education, Research and Innovation 2017–2020, State Secretariat for Education, Research and Innovation (de, fr, it)

Swiss Government Excellence Scholarships for Foreign Scholars and Artists SERI

swissnex China (en, 中文)

Human Security

Besides specific consultations on labour law and the rule of law, since 1991 China and Switzerland have been engaged in an annual human rights dialogue. The last round of talks took place in China in March 2017. Various projects are being implemented and individual cases discussed within the framework of this dialogue. The human rights dialogue focuses on the following:

  • Criminal law, criminal procedure and penal system
  • Minorities and religious freedom
  • Business and human rights
  • International human rights issues

Switzerland's human rights policy

Humanitarian aid

In addition to its readiness to provide emergency relief whenever it is needed, Switzerland has also institutionalised and strengthened its cooperation with China's National Commission for Disaster Reduction. Most recently, Switzerland offered its assistance in the aftermath of the earthquakes that struck the provinces of Sichuan (2008, 2013) and Qinghai (2010).

Cultural exchanges

Switzerland and China have significantly increased their cultural relations in recent years. For example, in 2010 the Swiss Arts Council Pro Helvetia opened an office in Shanghai to promote cultural exchanges between Switzerland and China.  

The bilateral agreement between China and Switzerland on the illegal export and restitution of cultural property (signed in 2013) contributes significantly to this increase in cultural exchanges.  

In 2015, numerous projects were organised to mark the 65th anniversary of the Sino-Swiss bilateral relations.  In January 2017, the Bilateral Cultural Agreement was signed. 2017 was also designated as the Switzerland-China Year of Tourism.

Agreement on the illegal export and restitution of cultural property (fr, de, it)

Pro Helvetia Shanghai ( en, 中文)

Swiss nationals in China

At the end of 2017, there were 3,882 Swiss citizens living in China (including Hong Kong).

History of bilateral relations

In the mid-17th century traders and missionaries from Switzerland set up contact with the Chinese Empire. Trade relations developed fast in the second half of the 19th century. A Swiss trading agency opened in Shanghai in 1912.

The first official contacts between the two countries were in 1906. A treaty of friendship signed in 1918 formalised relations between Switzerland and the Republic of China.

Switzerland recognised the People’s Republic of China in 1950, one of the first Western states to do so. The new China made its first appearance on the world stage at the Indochina Conference in Geneva in 1954. Since China’s opening-up in 1979, bilateral relations have developed very fast.  

China, Historical Dictionary of Switzerland (de, fr, it)

Diplomatic Documents of Switzerland, Dodis