Senior Swiss official highlights importance of a positive national image, seeks more cooperation with China

Editor‘s Note:

Switzerland enjoys a good reputation worldwide for its exquisite products and financial hubs. Global Times reporter Lu Wenao (GT) had a chance to speak with Nicolas Bideau (Bideau) – head of Swiss Presence, a promotional arm under the Swiss Foreign Ministry – on multiple topics such as Switzerland‘s experience in maintaining its national image and his thoughts on bilateral cooperation with China. 

GT: What are the reasons that Switzerland cares so much about its presence and image? What does this improved image bring to Switzerland?

Bideau: If you have a good image in your business, you‘re going to win battles image and positive decision. This is something connected. 

Nicolas Bideau, head of Presence Switzerland Photo: Courtesy of swisscham.org

Thanks to my ancestors who decided to export their ideas to become a top leader, to think that Switzerland couldn‘t be stronger if we win market shares abroad. 

Our richness is connected to our products, they need a good image to be sold. So the image of a country is directly connected with the possibility to do business and to gain wealth. 

GT: Could you please talk about Switzerland‘s advantages and in which specific areas you think that China and Switzerland can cooperate?

Bideau: The image of Switzerland is very cliché. When you ask a random Chinese what is Switzerland, he or she will tell you about the chocolate, the mountains, the banks and so on. But we are not only that. 

We are a nation which is very innovative. If you have a look at the innovation index, we are at the top, we do have very powerful high schools, universities and so on. 

I‘m always trying to find enterprises that could give a face to the digital part of the innovative product of Switzerland because they provide a different image of Switzerland.

We do have a lot of research on innovation, but we have a small market. This is the big difference with China. China has innovation and a big market, meaning that you can fulfill all the line from the research till the product. 

We don‘t have a market, meaning a lot of the time we were selling technology, which is bad for our image because other countries are selling things with Swiss technology. So this is something that I‘m trying to push to explain. 

Without Swiss technology as ambassadors, brands would not thrive because we have like more than 10 companies producing spare parts for those automotive industries. 

That‘s why I‘m looking for a startup and looking for products that have this technological dimension to it. 

GT: The 2nd China International Import Expo was held in Shanghai in November, with plenty of Swiss companies attending it. How does joining this expo benefit Switzerland?   

Bideau: We all know that this expo is one of the most important, we had to take part. 

But what kind of Switzerland should we promote? Should we promote a classical Switzerland or promote a surprising Switzerland? Those are the questions that are not that easy to answer because we have to find out whether there is a market for us. 

So all expos are a challenge because you really have to be good at finding the right Switzerland you want to promote. 

Right now we are thinking about new kinds of channels that we could promote, for instance, a smart Switzerland. We do have experience with smart cities. We know that China is interested in the field of sustainable development. So each kind of technology we could show the Chinese in that field. 

We think that there is a potential to connect the economy, to connect public policies. 

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GT: What do you think is the most important element for Switzerland when it comes to maintaining a positive national image? 

Bideau: The most important is the qualities that we can transmit through our products. This is one dimension that people connect Switzerland with: quality, sustainability and efficiency. Those are the most important things – that our products connect other people with some values that they can find. This is the economic part of what is important for us.

And there is a political part of what is important for us. Switzerland is a neutral country but not a sleeping neutral country. We are an active neutral country.

We do care about the world through international meetings like in Geneva. We have a lot of different international organizations over there. We are organizing conferences about crises and other important things that happen in the world.

Switzerland has to be a bridge in the field of geopolitical relations in the world. This is the most important thing that we want to transmit abroad, and especially in China.

GT: How can China improve its national image like Switzerland? 

Bideau: The decision to host the Olympic Games in 2022 is the best answer, because positive and negative images are something quite subjective. 

Even for Switzerland, it‘s the products [that lead to a positive image], but sometimes there are problems with the products. 

Sometimes we have a negative perception of a country because of a cliché, and the only way to get rid of this cliché is to go to that country. If someone who does not have a positive image of China can talk to a bunch of Chinese people, this misunderstanding will disappear. 

It was very interesting to see how people changed their opinions about Russia in their exchanges with the Russian people [at the Sochi Olympics in 2014]. So this is one of the best solutions that you can have by hosting the world in your country. 

GT: You are the chief of the House of Switzerland during the 2022 Winter Olympics. What can we expect from the House? 

Bideau: Well, Beijing being that big, we, first of all, took the decision to have two Houses of Switzerland, because only one would be a problem as the competition is really split, with ones taking place in the mountain cluster and ones in the city cluster. 

And knowing that almost all our athletes are going to be in the mountain clusters, we will have a mountain House of Switzerland, the cliché “House of Switzerland in the mountains.” This is the one there we‘re going to have for our athletes.

And here in the center of Beijing, we‘re going to have a House of Switzerland more dedicated on the other dimensions of Switzerland and sports. For instance, our products, the classical products on one side and the surprising products like drones, robotics, AI and smart and sustainable items on the other. 

But the trick is, we‘re open to the public. And this is something that is quite different. If you are going to see the other national houses, they‘re going to be closed only for the athletes and VIPs. We are not like that. 

GT: Bilateral trade between China and Switzerland is growing fast. How are Swiss companies and business partners benefiting from such a trend?

Bideau: We have a trade agreement with China, so we definitely are taking some benefits from this growth. Of course, sometimes it could be a battle, there are always some hurdles and so on. But I think that when China is growing, Switzerland is growing too, as China is definitely an important partner for us. 

And not only China. We are [also] very interested in the Initiative, because it is about infrastructure and it is about building, and we are good at that.

Newspaper headline: Why ‘Presence’ matters


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