China’s pressure on Swiss cantonal gov’t against Tibetan flags move decried

Activists demonstrate in front of the UN offices in Geneva protesting against the China’s inhuman treatments of Tibetans and Uighurs. (Photo courtesy: Keystone / Salvatore Di Nolfi)

(, Apr17’20) – Pressured by China, the government of the French-speaking canton of Vaud in southwestern Switzerland had on Mar 9 told the 10 municipalities under its jurisdiction to abstain from raising the Tibetan flag on Mar 10, the 61st Tibetan national uprising day, reported Apr 16, citing a copy of the letter. However, the Chinese pressure had only limited effect.

It would contradict the “One China Policy” of the Swiss government, the cantonal government was quoted as saying, referring to consultations to had with the Federal Department of Foreign Affairs. Foreign policy is a matter for the federal government, it was reported to have said.

The Chinese pressure and the Vaud government request came after it was learnt that all these municipalities had planned to take part in a flag-flying campaign for Tibet organized annually by the Swiss-Tibetan Friendship Society (GSTF) to commemorate the 1959 Tibetan uprising against the Chinese occupiers.

The report noted that three days earlier, the Chinese ambassador had written to the government of canton Vaud, asking it to call on the municipalities to desist from raising flags and other demonstrations of solidarity.

The Chinese pressure had only limited effect, however. Nine municipalities went ahead regardless and raised the Tibetan flag on Mar 10, while one desisted, the report said.

GSTF president Thomas Büchli has said that while there was nothing new about the Chinese Embassy trying to disrupt or prevent such demonstrations, what was new in the present case was that “the relevant authority responded to Chinese intervention by writing an official letter that simply passed on the request” to the municipal authorities.

Ralph Weber, a professor at the Europa Institute at Basel University and who researches Chinese politics and documents this kind of Chinese intervention, has said, “These kinds of intervention by China happen constantly all over Europe,” noting that most of the time it’s a question of “small scandals” that are often not even registered by the public.

He has said the United Front, an organisation inside the Chinese Communist Party that had gained considerable influence since President Xi Jinping, was behind this kind of move, which is designed to influence democratic states.

“In Switzerland we underestimate the scope and depth of the United Front’s activities,” the Basel-based researcher was quoted as saying. In other countries, such as Australia, New Zealand or Czech Republic, there is a much more intensive and critical discussion about China’s influence, he has added.


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