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US-China rivalry: What can Switzerland do?

Joe Biden has met with Xi Jinping several times. In 2015, the Chinese leader paid an official visit to Washington; Biden was vice president of Barack Obama’s cabinet at the time. Copyright 2021 Associated Press. All rights reserved.

On Friday, March 19, the Swiss government adopted its first foreign policy strategy for China, the federation’s third trading partner. The decision comes at a time when the United States is developing its own plan to deal with what has been called America’s “most serious rival” by Joe Biden.

This content was released on March 22, 2021 – 1:30 p.m.

The development of a geographical strategy for managing relations with China is a long-standing demand of Swiss parliamentarians. The Government is now satisfied with the request to improve the integration of economic policies of the various federal departments and zones.

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Switzerland’s new strategy towards China

The Swiss strategy takes into account current geopolitical developments, especially the growing rivalry between the United States and China. According to Swiss intelligence, both powers want to create spheres of influence.

According to former British diplomat Ian Bond, the days of believing that the United States and other countries, including Switzerland, would alter its structure with the West when China allows prosperity are over.

Now, the United States sees China as a strategic competitor because it is now the second largest economic power in the world and endangers the interests of its expander Washington.

“This is a contest that will mark the next decade,” said Bond, director of the European Reform Center’s foreign policy division.

This rivalry between the two superpowers is a challenge to other countries, including Switzerland, which seeks to maintain good relations with both states, without taking a stand, following the rivalry from one side.

Joe Biden explained that the US approach to China would be a kind of political balancing act between cooperation, “when it is in the interest of the United States”, and competition, “with allies and allies.” Chinese President Xi Jinping has warned that he does not view the formation of an alliance to put pressure on his country. Among other things, China is moving its troops on the international chessboard to attract new states into its orbit.

“In a world of similar tensions between the two powers, which direction should the smaller nations take?” Asks Simona Grano, a cynologist and associate professor at the University of Zurich’s Asia-East Institute. “Will they choose which side to take, will they be neutral or will they come in the bandwagon of the strong?”

Economic beliefs and fears

It will be very important for Switzerland to protect its economic interests. “First, it will focus on maintaining good economic relations. This is one of the key tasks of government foreign policy,” Grano said.

On the one hand, the United States is Switzerland’s second largest trading partner, next to Europe, on the other hand, the Federation certainly does not want to risk access to the large Chinese market. Trade between China and Switzerland has increased rapidly in recent years.

The two countries signed a Free Trade Agreement in 2014 and a Memorandum of Understanding in 2019, with the aim of further developing trade, investment and project financing cooperation in third countries, as part of the new Silk Road, with the Chinese project aimed at developing land and maritime infrastructure outside its borders.

In fact, Switzerland wants to attract more foreign direct investment from China, which is currently very modest (14.8 billion francs in the Confederation in 2019) compared to Swiss investments in China of 22.5 billion francs. As in other countries, there is growing concern within the federation about the protection of intellectual property in the face of the onslaught of the superpower.

Following the acquisition of the Swiss agrochemical company Synanda in 2016 by the state-owned company Chemchina, the Swiss parliament approved it. MovementExternal link It calls on the government to set up legal bases to oversee foreign direct investment and create oversight powers.

Damian Mர்ller is the chairman of the State Council’s Foreign Policy Commission. The senator and a member of the Liberal extremist party believe that Switzerland and the European Union can tackle the problem together as other European countries face the takeover of their high-tech companies by Chinese companies.

“We are in a free market and we cannot prevent companies from buying. However, we need to find a strategy that is valid for the whole continent and make China compliant with the rules,” M முller recalled.

In 2019, the EU pointed out that China is a “legitimate competitor” and an economic competitor. Last year, the EU regulation on the regulation of foreign investment came into force.

Common values

According to Simona Grono, the strategy promoted by the new US president is aimed at building an alliance of allies who are ready to tackle burning issues such as unfair economic practices with China, which will undoubtedly benefit Switzerland. In this way, a small country does not have to deal with the Chinese company alone and does not risk economic retaliation, as has recently been the case with Sweden and Australia.

“You have to act with gloves with China because you get angry. It can act aggressively to give a signal to other states,” says a zoologist at the University of Zurich.

But not all European countries are ready to cooperate. Some countries without money have not shrugged off Chinese investment and the new Silk Road initiative. Moreover, China has used the economic dependence of some countries to advance its interests in multilateral arenas. For example, in 2017, Greece unexpectedly blocked an EU report to the United Nations criticizing China’s human rights abuses.

“The Chinese are acting strategically when providing their assistance to countries,” Bond recalled. “We need to create other concessions so that we can better cooperate with China within the framework of existing structures.”

Suspicion of former US President Donald Trump’s multilateralism has created a game for China that has been able to strengthen its global leadership and dictate the UN agenda, “in a way that is inconsistent with priorities.” EU values, ”Ian Bond wrote in a recent study.

Grano defines China’s efforts as “overturning current multilateralism”, an alternative system “with parallel ‘reserves’ in the diplomatic, economic, cultural and security spheres around the world.

According to Bond, despite the recent outcome of the investment agreement between China and the EU, which has angered tensions in Atlantic relations and the White House, “there is a wide gap in values ​​between the EU and the US. China, and vice versa.”

Based on shared democratic values ​​and interests, countries like Switzerland can cooperate on issues such as intellectual property, cyber security and human rights to put pressure on China.

The question of survival

Public opinion may also affect the attitude of countries towards competition between the United States and China. Recent reports such as China’s systematic violation of the human rights of Uighur minorities, the arrest of activists fighting for greater democratization in Hong Kong, and contradictory and escaping reports of the outbreak of the new corona virus have cast a bad light on China.

It is not easy for Switzerland to find the right balance between economic interests and civil society appeals to condemn human rights abuses.

“We have good relations with the United States and China,” said Damien Mல்லller, councilor for the states. “We must act with caution so that one country does not feel backward compared to another. We can only work together with consistent dialogue and clear rules.”

Over time, the pressure to stand up for one or another nation in Switzerland becomes unbearable. At this point, the federation’s goal is to avoid ending up on the ropes. “Switzerland wants to continue to be a country above the parties, while at the same time defending its interests with the two superpowers,” Grano says. “Switzerland is doing its best to survive.”

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