Swiss MPs fearful of seeking accountable rights dialogue with China?

Barbara Gysi, a centre-left Social Democratic Party parliamentarian. (Photo courtesy: KEYSTONE/Gaetan Bally)
Barbara Gysi, a centre-left Social Democratic Party parliamentarian. (Photo courtesy: KEYSTONE/Gaetan Bally)

(, Oct07, 2018) – Switzerland has since 1991 been holding human rights dialogues with China. But no one knows what is exactly discussed and how this has been helpful in improving the patently horrendous situation in China. Barbara Gysi, a centre-left Social Democratic Party parliamentarian, being concerned, sought to introduce a parliamentary motion to ask the government to be open about the ongoing dialogue, but faced lack of cooperation even from her party colleagues, reported Oct 5.

The report said Gysi wanted to introduce a parliamentary motion this spring, but some of her colleagues didn’t want to sign it because they were afraid of China.

“They feared a telephone call from the Chinese Embassy in Bern, or didn’t want to ruin their relationships with Beijing,” she was quoted as sayings.

In her motion, Gysi was reported to have called for an appraisal of the human rights dialogue that Switzerland had conducted with China since 1991 “in confidentiality.” She has asked the government to evaluate the results of this dialogue and publish a report.

The report noted that in June this year, the 16th round of this dialogue took place and it quoted press releases from the Foreign Office as saying these talks allowed “an open and mutually critical discussion on international and national human rights questions”.

The report noted that while all the other Free Trade Agreements Switzerland had signed in recent years affirmed a commitment to human rights and the UN human rights declaration, the one with China, in force since summer 2014, lacked any commitment to human rights. As a result, there is no guarantee, for example, that goods produced by forced labour will not enter the Swiss market under favourable import conditions, it added.

Chinese attempts to interfere in Swiss affairs were stated to be highly intrusive. The report quoted Christa Markwalder, a member of parliament from the Free Democrats, as saying that eight years ago, as president of the foreign policy parliamentary committee, she was asked by the Chinese embassy in Bern, by telephone, on a question of a parliamentary interpellation “not to put the motion on the agenda”. But she pushed back by explaining “our democratic system, which works quite differently from the Chinese system”.

The report said China was particularly sensitive when it came to Tibet. It said the Swiss intelligence agency had noted this in its 2016 status report, which made “China’s increasing strength and its ascent to a global power player” one of its key focuses. China’s “self-confident and demanding conduct” was particularly keenly felt by the Tibetan exile community in Switzerland, the report was quoted as saying.

In this context, the Swiss government has not given Tibet’s exiled spiritual leader, the 83-year-old Dalai Lama, an official reception since 2005, including during his 15th visit in September this year, because China has labeled him as a separatist.


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