Backlash – Switzerland’s strategy with China stirs up anger in Beijing: why the superpower is now turning on the offensive

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Switzerland’s strategy with China stirs anger in Beijing: why the superpower is now turning on the offensive

“Malicious signs”, “baseless accusations” and “fake news”: The Chinese ambassador to Switzerland criticizes the Federal Council’s strategy on China. How are his words classified?

Comics: Sylvain Wegman

So it was generally expected: that the Chinese would not leave this up to them. But the circumstances in which they spoke turned out to be extraordinary. The Chinese ambassador to Switzerland, Wang Shitting, has spoken vigorously on all channels about Switzerland’s new strategy towards China.

In carefully prepared statements, he tore up the Federal Council paper. In a specially held videoconference, he answered journalists’ previously submitted questions. In an interview with Tamedia Portals, he even spoke about “baseless accusations and attacks on the political system in China, the human rights situation and domestic and foreign policy.”

Much deviates from the facts. The ambassador said one of them categorically objects to that. He accused the Federal Council of calling China “malicious signs” and of using the human rights dialogue – currently suspended – to interfere in internal affairs. Wang complained that all this had a negative impact on the relations between the two countries.

The fact that the human rights situation has deteriorated does not correspond to the facts. Over the past 40 years, 800 million Chinese have been lifted out of poverty. Wang said people would enjoy their peace. They were living “safely and happily”. Instead, Wang demanded that Switzerland do more “to strengthen friendship.” At the same time, at least, he respected the desire of the Federal Council to continue dialogue with China and expand bilateral relations.

Foreign Minister Ignacio Cassis (FDP) presented the Swiss Strategy to China on Friday. Your approach can be summarized as follows: The Federal Council does not want to jeopardize economic relations with China, but it does want to find clearer words regarding human rights violations. For its part, human rights organizations criticized the fact that the Federal Council was adopting a simpler tone, but it hardly drew any conclusions from it.

Drain between China and the United States

Chinese expert Ralph Weber, professor at the University of Basel, expected a sharp reaction from the Beijing message. In the conversation, he confirmed that he was surprised to see Ambassador Wang giving press conferences and giving interviews. “The fact that the Chinese actors react so vividly and sometimes violently to the so-called intervention becomes completely normal. Each of these follows their own rituals:

“The Federal Council is doing relatively well.”

Weber points to other countries where Chinese officials are exerting public pressure on parliamentarians, insulting scholars on social media and threatening dire consequences for all sides.

Chinese expert Ralph Weber analyzes Beijing's statements.

Chinese expert Ralph Weber analyzes Beijing’s statements.

Photo: Britta Gott

In the statements of the Chinese ambassador to Bern, you can hear static blocks and text blocks of Beijing’s propaganda language, says the professor. “It’s about the big picture.” It all boils down to one goal: China wants to position itself as an alternative to the United States and help its authoritarian model accept.

It is usual, for example, that the ambassador repeatedly attacks Americans in his statements, even though he is already talking about Switzerland. Weber gives an example: The Federal Council states in its paper that there is also political espionage by China in this country. In turn, the ambassador described this as “fake news” and immediately indicated that it was the United States that was spying on the entire world.

The Federal Council confirms in its strategy that it is not in its interest to form a bloc between Beijing and Washington. They say they pursue an “independent” China policy. But for Weber, one thing is certain: the United States and the People’s Republic of China will gradually increase the pressure on Switzerland so that it does not mess with them and, if necessary, take a clear stance.

Switzerland is less visible than other countries

Additionally, according to Weber, the Chinese are very likely to have noticed the fact that Switzerland mentions human rights violations in its China strategy, but it goes much less far than other countries. It does not belong to the European Union and describes China as a “competitor in the system”. It still describes the persecution of the Uyghurs as genocide, as the United States and other countries do.

Weber stated that the tension between trade and human rights violations is acknowledged, but is being dealt with with some perplexity. “This can only satisfy the Chinese.”

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