China Expands Visa-Free Access to Switzerland and Ireland

China announced a unilateral visa-free policy for citizens of Ireland and Switzerland. This initiative, revealed during Premier Li’s diplomatic engagements in Europe, aligns with China’s broader strategy to rejuvenate its travel industry following the COVID-19 pandemic and to strengthen its ties with European Union nations. This is a significant move to enhance international exchanges and boost its tourism sector

During a key meeting with Swiss President Viola Amherd, Premier Li Qiang not only confirmed visa-free access for Swiss citizens but also initiated discussions on upgrading the Free Trade Agreement (FTA) between the two countries. This development marks a notable advancement in diplomatic and economic relations with Switzerland. Furthermore, Premier Li’s discussions with Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar at Farmleigh House, the official Irish state guest house, echoed similar sentiments towards Ireland, indicating a drive to ease travel and foster closer relations.

Premier Li’s tour, which included his participation in the World Economic Forum in Switzerland, underscored China’s commitment to facilitating easier access for Swiss and Irish nationals, symbolizing a significant shift in international travel policies post-pandemic. With the global travel and tourism landscape deeply transformed by the coronavirus crisis, China’s latest move to open its doors visa-free to these European countries is a clear signal of its intention to attract a global audience and revitalize its tourism sector in this new era.

As part of its move to help the travel and tourism industry recover, China introduced visa-free entry for travelers from France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, and Spain on December 1, 2023. Under the visa-free regime, travelers from these five EU countries are permitted to stay in China for up to 15 days for tourism, business, family, or transit purposes. The only downside of this regime is that visa-free travel from these countries will be permitted on a “trial basis”, with the authorities saying that the visa requirement will start applying again after November 2024. According to the Chinese authorities, the lifting of the visa requirement for passport holders of France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, and Spain has proven to be an effective measure.

Data show that in December 2023 alone, around 118,000 visitors from these five countries entered China visa-free for tourism and business purposes. Higher numbers of visitors are expected to be registered this month as well as during spring.

Economic Relations between China and Switzerland

  • Trade and Investment: Switzerland is an important economic partner for China in Europe. The bilateral trade volume between the two countries has been growing steadily. Major Swiss exports to China include pharmaceuticals, watches, and machinery, while China exports electronics, textiles, and machinery to Switzerland. 
  • Free Trade Agreement (FTA): In 2013, China and Switzerland signed a Free Trade Agreement, the first of its kind between China and a mainland European country. This agreement has significantly boosted trade and investment flows between the two nations. Following the discussions, the Chinese foreign ministry released a statement indicating that both parties have concluded a joint feasibility study regarding the FTA’s upgrade. Furthermore, they have agreed to initiate formal negotiations for its enhancement at the earliest opportunity.
  • Investment Landscape: In 2021, China ranked as Switzerland’s fourth most significant trading partner, coming after Germany, the United States, and Italy. It’s noteworthy that the European Union as a whole accounts for approximately 58 percent of Switzerland’s total trade. Switzerland is recognized as a favorable destination for Chinese high-tech companies, maintaining a welcoming stance despite the United States expressing certain reservations in recent years. Prominent Chinese corporations, such as Huawei, Tencent and Neusoft, have successfully established operations in Switzerland. In parallel, Swiss companies, including technological leader ABB, Nestle in the food sector, and the healthcare powerhouse Roche, have made significant inroads into the Chinese market. This reciprocal attraction for investments highlights the strong economic relationship between Switzerland and China. Reflecting its policy of military neutrality, Switzerland has adeptly managed a unique diplomatic path, differentiating itself from the European Union’s approach towards China, particularly during periods of heightened tensions between Brussels and Beijing. This careful navigation underscores Switzerland’s dedication to pursuing an independent trajectory in its economic and diplomatic initiatives.

Historical and Diplomatic Relations

  • Early Interactions: The historical relations between China and Switzerland date back to the 16th century with the arrival of Swiss Jesuit missionaries in China.
  • Diplomatic Relations: Switzerland recognized the People’s Republic of China in 1950, making it one of the first Western countries to do so. The two countries have maintained steady diplomatic relations since then.
  • Neutral Diplomacy: Switzerland’s policy of neutrality has played a significant role in its relations with China, often positioning Switzerland as a mediator in international affairs.
  • Cultural and Educational Exchanges: Over the years, there have been increasing cultural and educational exchanges between the two countries, strengthening their mutual understanding and cooperation.

Curious Fact about China-Switzerland Relations: 

The Chinese Fondue Craze: Switzerland is globally known for its fondue, a dish where bread is dipped into melted cheese. Interestingly, this Swiss culinary tradition has found a surprising level of popularity in China. In recent years, Chinese consumers have embraced fondue, adapting it to their tastes and incorporating it into various Chinese-style hotpot dishes. This adoption and adaptation of a quintessentially Swiss dish reflect the cultural exchange and growing affinity between the two countries, transcending the usual boundaries of diplomatic and economic relations. It’s a delightful example of how a part of Swiss culinary culture has made its way into Chinese dining, symbolizing a melting pot of tastes and traditions.

Economic Relations between China and Ireland

  • Trade Growth: Economic relations between China and Ireland have been growing, with China becoming one of Ireland’s largest trading partners in Asia. The trade primarily includes Irish exports of dairy products, pharmaceuticals, and technology services.
  • Investment: Chinese investment in Ireland has been increasing, particularly in technology, finance, and agriculture sectors. Conversely, Irish companies have been expanding their presence in China, capitalizing on the growing Chinese market.
  • Agricultural Ties: Ireland’s export of dairy products and meat to China is significant, with China valuing Ireland’s reputation for high-quality agricultural produce.

Historical and Diplomatic Relations

  • Establishment of Relations: Ireland and China established formal diplomatic relations in 1979. Since then, the relationship has evolved steadily with mutual respect and cooperation.
  • Cultural and Educational Exchanges: There have been increasing cultural and educational exchanges between the two countries, enhancing mutual understanding and collaboration.
  • Visits and Dialogues: High-level visits and dialogues have been frequent, with leaders from both countries meeting regularly to discuss bilateral and global issues.

Curious Fact about China-Ireland Relations

Irish Beef in China: A fun and significant aspect of the China-Ireland relationship is the export of Irish beef to China. Ireland became the first major European Union country to gain access to the Chinese market for beef exports, reflecting not only economic ties but also China’s trust in Irish agricultural standards. This development marked a milestone in the bilateral trade relationship, with Ireland capitalizing on China’s growing demand for high-quality foreign beef.

James Joyce and Chinese Literature Lovers: Ireland’s famed writer, James Joyce, author of the modernist masterpiece “Ulysses,” has a special place in the hearts of many Chinese literary enthusiasts. Joyce’s complex narrative styles and themes have resonated with Chinese scholars and readers. His works have been widely studied and translated in China, with “Ulysses” being a particular favorite among Chinese academics. The novel’s translations have sparked interest in Irish literature and culture among Chinese readers.

This literary connection symbolizes a bridge between Irish and Chinese cultures. It’s an example of how, despite geographical and linguistic barriers, the literary prowess of a nation can influence and inspire appreciation in another country, fostering a unique cultural bond. This aspect of Sino-Irish relations highlights a shared love for deep, thought-provoking literature, underscoring a mutual respect for cultural and intellectual achievements.

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