"We must not put China on trial"
Swiss President Pascal Couchepin, who is on a ten-day trip to Asia, has arrived in the Chinese capital, Beijing, for the opening ceremony of the Summer Olympics.
He told swissinfo he believed that while human rights in China are improving, the government would operate on its own terms despite its engagement with - and criticism from – the West.
Couchepin was speaking after three days of talks in Vietnam where he held talks with his Vietnamese counterpart, Nguyen Minh Triet, government ministers and members of the ruling Communist Party.
Switzerland has 84 athletes taking part in the Beijing Olympics.
swissinfo: On Friday, you will attend the opening of the Olympic Games in Beijing. How do you feel about this and what are you expecting?
Pascal Couchepin: First and foremost, I hope that everything – including the ceremony – goes as well as possible. And naturally, I hope that Switzerland wins medals. This year, the Swiss have not had so much luck in sport. On the other hand, we did host Euro 2008. And Federer performed heroically at Wimbledon. Now we are waiting for the Olympics and hoping for success.
swissinfo: The decision to give the games to Beijing is still controversial given the issues of human rights and Tibet. China has claimed that the games will improve the situation. Are we witnessing a dialogue of the deaf?
P.C.: If dialogue for the West means challenging China, that will probably quickly lead to a dialogue of the deaf.
The country is aware of its power and also its culture and traditions. China will hardly accept being told what to do, both on a symbolic or moral level.
I believe the human rights situation in China is improving but that much still needs to be done. But we must not put China on trial. That will achieve nothing, especially for those whom we want to protect.
swissinfo: Last January, you said you would be attending the opening of the games. Why?
P.C.: Out of honesty. I had expected most heads of state to be at the ceremony, which is the case. I thought it would be correct to announce my participation as early as possible.
swissinfo: What were your impressions after your three-day visit to Vietnam?
P.C.: The country is evolving quickly. A visit to the two cities of Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi illustrated this. Construction sites are everywhere and there are more vehicles on the streets. There is a vibrant economic atmosphere. Politically, however, liberalisation is slower. But the authorities are discussing the issue, which is a sign that the country is also becoming more politically open.
swissinfo: Vietnam is still one of the few countries with a communist, one-party system. Can this system support the full development of a market economy?
P.C.: There are other countries in Asia governed under a one-party system. The best-known example is Singapore, which is prosperous. The system in certain phases is not incompatible with a market economy.
If I compare the political situation in Vietnam with what was 20 years ago, I have the feeling that it is not the same system. The internet opens up the possibility for new debates. Our Vietnamese partners have stressed that students both at home and abroad are interested in the future of their country. Changes are being called for.
swissinfo-interview: Andrea Arcidiacono in Ho Chi Minh City
1918: First treaty of friendship.
1950: Switzerland is one of the first countries to recognise the People's Republic of China.
1974: First commercial agreement.
1980: Joint venture between the Swiss lift manufacturer Schindler and a Chinese firm.
1986: Agreement affording mutual protection for investments.
1989: Scientific and technical cooperation agreement.
1992: Patent protection agreement.
1996: First visit to China by a president of the Swiss Confederation (Jean-Pascal Delamuraz).
2002: Opening of the Swiss Business Hub in Shanghai
2004: Protocol of understanding on tourism.
2007: Joint declaration on the protection of intellectual property.
Pascal Couchepin is Swiss interior minister and in charge of education and research a well as health, culture and social security.
Couchepin this year also holds the rotating post of Swiss President.
Couchepin has already visited Vietnam on his ten-day trip. After attending the opening ceremony of the Summer Olympics in Beijing on August 8, he will travel to the Philippines.
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