Australia fight against Chinese influence

Economy, politics, research - China's multifaceted influence in Switzerland

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Beijing has a finely branched and influential network around the world, according to an expert. Also in Switzerland.

The Chinese Communist Party wants to create acceptance for its authoritarian regime. The aim is to silence criticism of the penal camps and the tampering of Tibet and Hong Kong, Ralph Weber explains: "In order to achieve this acceptance, the CCP uses a whole range of systems of influence."

In a study, the professor at the University of Basel shows in detail the organizations through which the Chinese Communist Party is trying to influence Switzerland.

The first channel is said to be Chinese people who live in Switzerland, study or research in science or universities, or are business people. "The second channel concerns the appropriation of influential actors in Swiss economy, politics, but also in the media or research," says Weber.

These would publicly repeat the positions of the CCP or advise important decision-makers. "Here I suspect the much greater effect on Switzerland." The study names, for example, the Switzerland-China society, business associations and the Switzerland-China parliamentary group.

The president of the parliamentary group Switzerland-China is the FDP national councilor Laurent Wehrli. Such groups are all about gathering information, he explains: "I can assure you that the group is completely independent of Chinese politics." This can be seen in the numerous advances in parliament critical of China in recent years.

The Switzerland-China Society also describes itself as independent and rejects the “allusions and accusations” of the study. Weber, however, sticks to his thesis. Many of those affected are unwittingly being co-opted by the Chinese system, he explains.

The study by China expert Ralph Weber

Another goal that Weber describes are Swiss corporations. Chinese citizens sit on the boards of UBS, Credit Suisse, Nestlé and Swiss Re. As can be read in the study, they are all members of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, an advisory body of the state apparatus. Its members are considered in China to be useful for the purposes of the communist party.

"Normalization" of authoritarian systems

Such mandates help normalize the Chinese system. "Today it is normal to have a member from an authoritarian regime on the board of directors," says Weber. This could lead to dependencies from which it would be difficult to break away. "Up to the situation that large corporations curtail themselves in their own freedom of choice."

Chinese embassy condemns study

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SRF News has asked the Chinese embassy in Bern for a statement: The embassy condemns Ralf Weber's study. It politicizes normal diplomatic contacts between the two countries and harms relations.

At the request of SRF News, the corporations say that they do not comment on external mandates from their boards of directors. But what did the spheres of influence of China identified in the study have in Switzerland? «The debate in Switzerland was influenced. The influence is insidious and happens over many years, ”says Weber.

Over time, for example, criticism of China's dealings with Tibet or Taiwan has largely died down, concludes Weber.

China's "authoritarian challenge"

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The rise and global aspirations of China pose a tricky question for Switzerland and other democratic countries, says Weber. Namely: How can you cooperate with a country that is becoming more and more authoritarian?

China expert Ralph Weber warns that one must keep an eye on the authoritarian challenge posed by Beijing from outside and inside in order to be able to find an adequate response. "The People's Republic of China can exert its influence because it enjoys the wanted or unwanted, knowingly or unknowingly support from actors in countries like Switzerland."

The Federal Department of Foreign Affairs is currently working on a new China policy. Weber does not want to give advice. For him, it is about raising awareness about this topic, he says.

Echo der Zeit, January 5th, 2020, 6 p.m.

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  • Comment from Robert Altwegg (trebor)
    As a free and democratic country with civil and liberty rights, we have to take a clear position on the communist dictatorship in China. The regime in Beijing is persecuting and imprisoning people and ethnic groups in large numbers. More than 110 journalists are in Chinese prisons alone. A reporter has just been sentenced to 4 years in prison just for covering Wuhan. Switzerland's declaration of intent for the new Silk Road must therefore be suspended. Actions instead of words.
    Agree agree to the comment
  • Comment from Hans Anreiner (Hans.Anreiner)
    As long as we do not fundamentally turn away from the current economic theory of growth, the clever Chinese take advantage of our constant striving for more. They know exactly what we teach and what systems we operate with. They take advantage of the merciless in their favor. The greed for the large Chinese market, thus growth above all else, is simply too great. Especially in the many soon-to-be-saturated markets in the west.
    Agree agree to the comment
  • Comment from Peter Brudermann (Peter Brudermann)
    The legislation is back to change. Only Swiss nationals should be allowed to sit on the boards of directors of Swiss stock corporations.
    Agree agree to the comment

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