Diplomatic relations between Switzerland and the People’s Republic of China (proclaimed on 1 October 1949) were established on 17 January 1950.
Switzerland’s economic relationship with China goes back to the late 18th century when colonial powers held foreign concessions in China, and Swiss traders benefited from consular protection, unequal contracts and extraterritoriality rights.
After the Chinese revolutions (Boxer Rebellion and Xinhai Revolution) in the early 20th century, Sino-Swiss economic relations were heavily compromised by the Japanese hegemony in mainland China, and Switzerland’s proximity to European colonial powers. It was not until the end of World War II, when Switzerland along with other European countries abandoned colonial trade and moved from trading textiles and food to watches and machinery.
Sino-Swiss economic relations have accelerated since Deng Xiaoping’s economic reforms in the late 1970s.
Switzerland’s trade with China is not in deficit as other industrialized nations trade with China. Two way trade between the two countries is growing at an annual rate of 20–30 percent. In 2007, Swiss exports were valued at 5.4 billion Swiss francs or 5.36 billion US dollars.
China is now Switzerland’s top trading partner in Asia, ahead of Japan.
Swiss firms have been investing in China substantially over the last decade. There are approximately 300 Swiss firms with more than 700 branches operating in China with a total employment of 55,000 people.
Chinese firms have a small but growing presence in Switzerland as a base to expand in Europe.
Chinese firms are not only entering markets for basic consumer goods such as textiles and shoes but also for chemical intermediates, pharmaceuticals, high technology parts, and telecommunications.
In May 2013, during his official visit to the alpine nation, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang signed the first free trade agreement between the two countries worth more than 26 billion. Direct exports from Switzerland to China account for 22.8 billion in that deal, which was heralded as a “real milestone” by then Swiss President Ueli Maurer. Switzerland has a positive trade balance with China, and both countries are expected to profit from export guarantees, protection of intellectual property and financial cooperations between their largest banks.
Switzerland thus became the first continental European country and the largest economy to conclude a free trade deal with China.
In January 2015, during the World Economic Forum, the Swiss National Bank and the People’s Bank of China signed a memorandum of understanding on the establishment of renminbi clearing arrangements in Switzerland.
In July 2019, the UN ambassadors from 22 nations, including Switzerland, signed a joint letter to the UNHRC condemning China’s mistreatment of the Uyghurs as well as its mistreatment of other minority groups, urging the Chinese government to close the Xinjiang re-education camps.