Jiang Zemin’s reign (1993-2003) coincided with the era of China’s opening up to the West, launched by party leader Deng Xiaoping in 1979. China and Switzerland intensified their bilateral relations. At the time, the Swiss economy in particular benefited from numerous contacts at the highest level.
Jiang Zemin’s visit to Bern on March 25, 1999, which ended in turmoil, is fondly remembered. At the official reception in front of the Parliament Building, the exiled Tibetans took to the rooftops around the Parliament Building. They waved flags and placards reading “Free Tibet” and called for respect for human rights.
Flushed with anger, Jiang Zemin broke up the reception, entered the Federal Palace directly, and gave a lecture in corpore to the Federal Councilors. He told then Justice Minister Arnold Koller, “I’ve never seen anything like it – in any country.” And in the lobby he let the then Federal President Ruth Dreifuss know: “You have lost a good friend.”
The Federal Council was shocked. There was consternation and helplessness on their faces. The campaign was finally saved by then Federal Councilor Adolf Ogi, who took a rock crystal out of his pocket and gave it to Jiang Zemin. A good year later, Ogi visited China and shook hands with Jiang at a reception.
In the years that followed, trade relations between Switzerland and China developed beautifully. Since 2010, China has been Switzerland’s most important trading partner in Asia and the third most important trading partner overall after the EU and the USA.