The interview covers various topics ranging from the ambassador’s long connection with China, experiences and challenges as an ambassador, Sino-Swiss free trade agreement to Chinese cities and literature.
Long connection with China
Host: Hello everybody and welcome to People’s Daily Online. Today’s guest is the new Swiss ambassador to China. He was born in 1954, comes from the France-speaking part of Switzerland and listens to the beautiful name Jean-Jacques de Dardel. Good afternoon and welcome Mr. Ambassador.
Swiss Ambassador: Good afternoon, thank you for your welcome.
Host: Your family has a long and also very special relationship with China. Your father was a diplomat in Hong Kong. Your wife is a sinologist. And one of your daughters studied in Shanghai. And now you serve as the Swiss ambassador to China. Do you have any special feelings about this coincidence?
Swiss Ambassador: Well, it is a coincidence indeed. But when I concede it with time, with the passing of time, with age, I have become an optimist and I’m vindicated in being an optimist because indeed it was my good fortune to now be the one in China.
Host: You took up your office in Beijing this February just a few months ago. Before that, you worked in France, in Belgium, in the U.S. and in Australia, what is your first impression of China and what advice did your wife as sinologist give you before you came to Beijing?
Swiss Ambassador: My first impression of China is one of an extraordinary dynamism because actually I refer to my first real impressions of China long time ago in (19)86 I tend to compare, compare very advantageously when I see how Beijing and the China I have seen had developed, so I can only be enthusiastic about what I see, and feel that yes, I’m in the center of a very dynamic world.
Experiences and challenges as an ambassador
Host: Compared to other countries you have worked like Belgium, or France or Australia, what are the main differences between these countries and China?
Swiss Ambassador: The fact that they’re different. That’s all. For me, any country, every country has its own idiosyncrasies and differences, its own identity. In that sense, I’m not coming here to compare China to the rest of the world if I ever compare China to itself and I’m here with an open mind and I discover what there is to discover. I benefited from experiences gathered elsewhere. Yes, that can sharpen my ability to observe, but believe me I’m here truly in China not thinking about any other countries of the stage.
Host: Before coming to China, you served as ambassador to France, to Principality of Monaco. France and China are two countries with completely different cultures. What are the main challenges for you as Swiss ambassador to China?
Ambassador: I’d say that as for any ambassador in any new country, the main challenge is to get in-tuned to get up to par as quickly as possible, learn, discover and be active and be productive, that’s nothing new. The challenge here seems to be not only the size of the country of course, but the incredible number of opportunities because of the dynamism of China, and hence being everywhere at the same time is impossible, so you have to prioritize and yet I sensed there is a world of opportunities out there and that is certainly very motivating.
Host: You just mentioned that you have to get accustomed as an ambassador to a new country. How do you do that? You just read books or how does an ambassador get acquainted to a new country as soon as possible?
Ambassador: Actually, of course, reading is part of my life, even writing is part of my life. But I believe that contacts with people are the most important part and hence what I try to do is to have an open mind but also show myself available as possible and meet as many people as possible who will then instill different kinds of knowledge in me so as to then enable me to make up my mind about what there is to think.
Host: Let’s look back a little bit to the year 1950. In 1950, Switzerland was one of the first western countries to establish diplomatic relations with the People’s Republic of China. How would you describe the development of the Sino-Swiss relations since then?
Ambassador: I’d say that these relations have always been good and you’re right in pointing out that we were one of the very first to recognize China on January 17 in 1950, but we’re also later on the first to recognize China’s market economy in 2007 and the first, I believe western joint adventure established in China ¬ as done so much a company in 1980, so there’re a number of firsts which just bear witness to the fact that with open mind on both sides, we have a long story of getting involved with each other considering there is complementary and there are interesting things to do together.
Host: Interesting things to do together in the future? So what about your future outlook? How does the future of the Sino-Swiss relations look like?
Ambassador: I believe I told you I have become somewhat of an optimist; so obviously, my outlook is a very positive one. On the eve of the entry into force of a new agreement between China and Switzerland, I believe it will be the first free trade agreement that China have signed with one of the 20 top economies in the world. Even before the entry into force we see further dynamism our exports and imports are picking up quite substantially. Double digit figures and my belief is that beyond figures, what we will experience is an added focus, a mental focus by people, by decision-makers on both sides, on each other and hence yes, I’m very optimistic about what lies behind.
Free Trade Agreement
Host: Let’s stick to this free trade agreement which was signed in July 2013 after two years and a half; it’s an 1100 page-long document. Some politicians in Switzerland say this document is the most important foreign agreement since the free agreement with the European Union in 1972. Why is this Chinese-Swiss free trade agreement so important?
Ambassador: Well it’s a major stepping stone bringing together two performing economies. We have slowly but surely understood in general sense of the world that China is the up and coming world power, so for us it’s an important, a big present and enable further presents. On the other hand, we’re very performing, innovative, creative country, an economy as we’re positioned in the heart of Europe. It is also interesting for China to be positioned in such a location and from there, survey on European markets. So it is very important for us but I believe that our Chinese counterparts have also considered that important to them. And you’re right in pointing out that the two have years of negotiations, which were very intensive. It’s a certain time but not a very long time. We put a lot of heart, energy and mind to it.
Host: The agreement will be implemented step by step over the coming years. In which areas of this implementation process do you currently see the biggest difficulties, the main obstacles?
Ambassador: I actually don’t foresee particular difficulties or obstacles. What will most probably happen is the translation of the texts of those thousand plus pages you mentioned will then need here and there some adjustment, and some mental work on the part of those who will have to adapt in daily work of the new regulations. There is, there will be a joint committee to survey all of that, and I believe there will be piecemeal all difficulties, but not one major difficulty, you know.