Swiss pursue 'special path' with big trade partner China -minister

Swiss Foreign Minister Ignazio Cassis attends a news conference in Bern, Switzerland, December 18, 2020. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse

ZURICH, Nov 9 (Reuters) - Switzerland's foreign minister played down prospects for his neutral country to embrace Western sanctions against China over its human rights record as Bern pursues a "special path" with Beijing, a major trade partner, he told a newspaper.

"It is a balancing act. On the one hand, we have difficult discussions with China about human rights, but on the other hand, the country is an important partner in economic and other issues," Ignazio Cassis said in an interview with the Neue Zuercher Zeitung published on Tuesday.

"We want to take a special path that lets us hold summit meetings in Geneva like the one between Joe Biden and Vladimir Putin or peace talks. We cannot play the role of bridge-builder if we always sing along in the chorus with other countries."

The Swiss government has been discussing whether to adopt human rights sanctions the EU imposed on China in March.

"The issue is on the table, the lead is with the State Secretariat for Economic Affairs. From a foreign policy perspective, the question is whether Switzerland wants to continue to play a role as an honest broker or whether it automatically wants to follow the EU. For me, the answer is clearly the first," said Cassis, from the pro-business Liberals party.

In 1950 Switzerland was one of the first western countries to recognise Communist China. Since 2010, China has been its biggest trading partner in Asia and its third-largest globally after the European Union and the United States.

A bilateral free trade agreement took effect in July 2014.

Reporting by Michael Shields; Editing by Michael Perry

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