Switzerland and China will sign a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) on cooperation with third markets under the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) on Monday, Swiss President Ueli Maurer said in Beijing.
The move is expected to inject new momentum into bilateral relations, President Maurer said.
President Maurer will be in China through April 30, accompanied by a finance and business delegation.
President Xi Jinping invited President Maurer for a state visit on April 28 and 29 following the Swiss leader’s participation at the Second Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation, according to the Embassy of Switzerland in Beijing.
Italy was the first G7 member country to join the BRI, and Switzerland, a neutral country in Europe, has sent strong signals over the past few days, drawing worldwide attention.
Ralph Pöhner, chief economist at Swiss business paper Handelszeitung, said Switzerland’s significance to China is above all economic.
“The Chinese are looking for leading technology and for modern economies and forms of organisation. Switzerland has a lot to offer here, certainly more than other rich European countries. Switzerland is also the first and so far the only country in continental Europe to have a free-trade agreement with China,” Pöhner said.
President Maurer said, “BRI is the world’s biggest investment program of this century. We all know that it’s necessary to make such investment to drive our economic development.”
President Maurer is pleased to see BRI does not serve only one country, but the mankind, which will benefit future generations.
A series of agreements in the financial and insurance industries will be signed during President Maurer’s visit.
“We also have the intention to work with the Chinese side in the innovation field,” President Maurer said while praising Chinese innovation capabilities.
President Maurer listed the five key principles of BRI development for Switzerland.
Private capital is necessary for the infrastructure development, and sustainability efforts need extra attention. Stakeholders need to take greater social responsibility and green environment issues should be an important criteria. The last is transparency, President Maurer explained.
As for Huawei’s involvement in 5G construction in other countries, President Maurer told the Global Times he can see inside Europe and in the West there are different opinions. “As for Switzerland, we don’t oppose Huawei’s participation in 5G construction,” he said.
Despite the BRI scepticism from the US, President Maurer stressed that Switzerland, as an independent country, makes decisions based on their own judgements and do what they think is right.
The world needs economic development as it can create jobs and connect people. This can help prevent conflicts or battles, President Maurer said.
Herbert Scheidt, President of Swiss Banking Association, said during Thursday’s media briefing that the BRI could provide cooperation opportunities for China and Swiss banks and insurance companies.
China’s huge market and people’s pursuit for a better life draw interests from the Switzerland, he said.
“For Switzerland, our domestic market is limited. Therefore, we have to keep opening up to integrate into the World market,” Scheidt said. “We are also willing to share our experience as a financial centre to China.”
The cooperation in the insurance industry has undergone basic assessment, said Guido Fürer, Group Chief Investment Officer of Swiss Re.
“China is the second-largest insurance market in the world and according to our research, it will become the largest in 15 years. But currently the insurance rate is much lower than other countries,” Fürer said.
State Secretary Marie-Gabrielle Ineichen-Fleisch, director of the State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (SECO), told the Global Times that for Switzerland what’s important is that BRI projects are sustainable and abide by international standards.
She noted Switzerland’s BRI participation could help improve transparency.
“BRI is a far-reaching project and needs to be built step and step,” she said.
“I think it is in the interest of China to have an open market. I sense it is opening up more and more lately,” said Ineichen-Fleisch.