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Switzerland rebukes China over human rights but stops short of curbing investment

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Neutral Switzerland accused China on Friday of “increasingly authoritarian tendencies” and suppressing dissidents and minorities, though it stopped short of announcing curbs on Chinese investment despite protectionist pressure at home.

In unveiling a new strategy on China, Bern announced few concrete policy changes and stressed the importance of bilateral ties. But it spoke more openly about its disapproval of China’s human rights record than it has tended to do in the past.

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Switzerland would aim to “modernize” a free trade agreement it reached with Beijing in 2014, and scrutinize an investment deal China and the European Union struck last year, the government said.

“Politically, China remains de facto a one-party state with increasingly authoritarian tendencies and the suppression of dissidents and minorities,” Foreign Minister Ignazio Cassis told a news conference.

China’s human rights situation had deteriorated, and Beijing had become less willing to discuss such issues, Cassis added.

Switzerland was one of the first western countries to recognize Communist China in 1950. While Bern has raised concerns with Beijing over human rights issues for decades, it is rare for Swiss officials to rebuke a major trading partner in public over such issues. Beijing denies it abuses human rights.

Calls for Switzerland’s government to limit Chinese investment have increased since Chinese state-owned ChemChina bought Swiss agrichemicals group Syngenta in 2016 for $43 billion.

There were “clear differences in values between the two countries,” and it was therefore “vital to ensure that policy towards China is clear and consistent,” the Swiss government said in its statement on Friday.

“Promoting globally accepted rules and standards, functioning multilateral organizations and an intact global economy remain key elements of Swiss foreign policy.”

China had a 14.9 billion Swiss franc ($16 billion) stock of direct investment in Switzerland in 2019, or 1.1 percent of total foreign investment, while the Swiss had 22.5 billion francs invested in China.

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