(MENAFN- Swissinfo) Switzerland's decision came just a month after the Chinese ambassador to Switzerland warned the country not to follow the EU . Although there is no evidence that the two events are connected, there is an impression that Switzerland is“shying away from taking a bold stance on China and the real reason behind this decision is economic”, says Ralph Weber, a European Global Studies professor at the University of Basel.
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In March 2021, the European Union imposed sanctions on some Chinese individuals and companies over alleged human rights abuses targeting the Uighur population. All EU countries, and most Western powers, including the UK, the US, Canada, Iceland and Norway adopted these sanctions. Since the very beginning of this process, Switzerland has been under pressure to take a decision on the matter.
Switzerland is 'shying away' from angering China
The Swiss government decided to reject the sanctions in December 2022. But it never communicated this decision to the public, a recent report by the Swiss newspaper Neue Zürcher Zeitung (NZZ)External link revealed.“Now they say they won't provide further information about this decision, but they owe us an explanation,” says Weber.
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Some Swiss politicians, including the Social Democrat (left-wing) Fabian Molina, say the government's lack of communication means it“tried to cover it up”. However, others have expressed satisfaction and relief that Switzerland is holding back from measures that could anger Beijing.
“The Federal Council [government] weighed up the interests based on various foreign policy and legal criteria,” the Swiss Economics Ministry told the NZZ. But Weber thinks that the legal questions are not the real issue here.“Iceland and Norway might also have legal issues, but it did not take them this long to make a decision,” explains Weber.
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As reported by the Swiss online media site Watson link , the Swiss government announced in April 2023 that in December 2022 they decided to“examine the existing legal basis in more detail”, while it has now been revealed that the decision of not adopting the sanctions had already been taken.
And if it is legitimate for the Alpine country to take into considerations its economic interests,“it is not fair to refuse to give us an explanation. It's clear that Switzerland is putting economic interests above human rights concerns,” Weber says.
What's the future of Swiss-Chinese relations?
He believes that Switzerland fears possible retaliatory measures by China, like those which Beijing imposed on the EU after the adoption of the sanctions. After all, the political relations between Switzerland and China have been anything but smooth.
The Alpine country has been holding regular meetings with Beijing since 1991 and in 2013 it signed a free-trade agreement with China. This allowed Swiss companies to save several hundred million francs on the export of their goods to China.
But the accusations of mass detention of Muslim Uighurs disrupted the relationship between the two countries. In 2019, Switzerland co-signed a UN letter calling for the closure of Uighur camps in Xinjiang and the human rights dialogue with Beijing was stalled for four years, only resuming in 2023.
The EU sanctions were imposed just after Switzerland unveiled its first ever China foreign policy strategy , which aimed at creating“greater coherence” in its relations with Beijing, despite“clear differences in values between the two countries”. The International Monetary FundExternal link described China as one of the world's top three economies in 2023. China is Switzerland's third-largest trading partner.
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