St.Gallen Symposium Interview with Ambassador Jacques de Watteville

In the context of the 4th Reception of the St.Gallen Symposium in Beijing, the St.Gallen Symposium asked H.E. Ambassador of Switzerland to China Jacques de Watteville a few questions about innovation, the relation between China and Switzerland, and about the idea of fostering intergenerational exchange in China.

Roland Decorvet, CEO Nestlé China and Ambassador Jacques de Watteville

St.Gallen Symposium: Why is it important to talk about innovation in China, and what is the role of Switzerland in fostering innovation in China?

Jacques de Watteville: As the world’s 2nd largest economy and projected to become the largest one in the near future, China aims to maintain its impressive development momentum. Thus far, availability of cheap natural resources and a huge pool of low-cost labor workers have contributed greatly to the remarkable growth of China. They have given it a competitive edge. However, they have started to fade in the last years. And rising awareness among the Chinese people on environmental issues have created a situation whereby “development at any price” is no longer a sustainable option. China is now facing important challenges which also reflect the high level of development China has reached.

In this context, transforming the current business model by shifting from “made in China” to “innovated in China” has become a key topic for the Chinese government. Over the 63 years of diplomatic relations between Switzerland and China, the two countries have deepened cooperation in a wide range of activities. Bilateral ties are established not only in the traditional fields of economy, finance but also increasingly in education, science and technology, and innovation.

Increasingly, Swiss companies establish R&D centers in China and closely cooperate with Chinese universities—Nestlé, Novartis, Syngenta, just to name a few. The cooperation between Chinese and Swiss universities has further been strengthened as faculty and student exchanges as well as joint research projects frequently take place. Just recently a Chinese business school has established its EMBA program in Switzerland, making it the first Chinese business school to build a permanent base outside of China.

To promote bilateral research collaboration, the two governments have set up the Sino-Swiss Science and Technology Cooperation SSSTC Program to support joint research, institutional partnership, and scholarly exchange. The successful implementation of the pilot phase (2004-2007) and action phase (2008-2012) have brought us to the on-going discussions about the new phase (2013-2016) of the SSSTC program with increased funding and possibilities for the industry to participate. It is our hope that researchers from the two countries work closely together to contribute to the economic growth of both sides.

SGS: On first sight Switzerland and China seem very different. One is a very small industrial state in the heart of Western Europe, the other an enormous emerging superpower in Asia. Given these differences, what does the cooperation between the two countries look like?

JDW: Switzerland and China are indeed different in a lot of ways—their territory size, population, economic scale. But the two countries are also highly complementary in their economies, cultures and people.

According to the European Innovation Scoreboard 2011, Switzerland is the most innovative country in Europe. And it is also the most competitive economy worldwide according to the Global Competitiveness Report 2012, published by the World Economic Forum. These achievements are due to several factors, including a political and legal framework ensuring a reliable implementation of the rule of law.

For Switzerland, China now ranks first among Asian countries and third overall after the EU and the USA in terms of economic trade. It is needless to say that the future of China is of paramount importance for Switzerland. Since the establishment of bilateral diplomatic relations in 1950, the ties between our countries have gradually grown stronger in multiple areas. As of today, there are roughly 400 Swiss companies with 900 branches present in China, and in the year 2011 the bilateral trade volume increased by 9.4%. On the other side, we also see a slowly but constantly growing number of Chinese companies settling in Switzerland. They presently amount to about 80; among them Sinopec, Lenovo, Huawei, and Hainan Airlines.

As you may know, Switzerland and China are in the process of negotiating a Free Trade Agreement. The 8th round of negotiations took place in early March, and great progress has been achieved so far. A successful finalization of the Free Trade Agreement would make Switzerland the first country in Europe with a broad economy to conclude a FTA with China. This once more indicates the key interests of our two countries to closely interact.

Based on the spirit of mutual interest and benefit, the Sino-Swiss Eco-Industry Park was officially launched in the city of Zhenjiang, Jiangsu Province, earlier this year. The eco-industry park integrates both Swiss and Chinese expertise in energy efficiency technologies and standards, management experiences, and engineering practices. It encourages interactions between scientists and entrepreneurs from both countries to ensure the sustainability of the cooperation. Platforms like this, which allow the people of our two countries to come together, are generating concrete opportunities for us to learn from each other.

SGS: The St. Gallen Symposium fosters the exchange of ideas between the Leaders of Today and Tomorrow. What will be the role of the youths in creating innovation in China, and what is the interest of Switzerland in this development?

JDW: Historically, China has contributed tremendously to civilization by inventing paper-making, the printing press, gun powder, and the compass. There is no doubt that creativity is part of the Chinese gene, and that China has the potential to rise high in the field of innovation. The rise largely depends on the young generation.

Along with China’s economic globalization, we can see an increasing number of brilliant young professionals and young entrepreneurs in China. Many of them have studied abroad—some in Switzerland—and they have brought back to China their knowledge, their creative minds, their inter-cultural communication skills, and their broad network. All of these are key success factors to stimulate innovation-based economic growth in China. These promising leaders of tomorrow will soon become the pillars of innovation, not only for China but also for the rest of the world.

It is definitely in the interest of Switzerland and China to have frequent interactions between the young generations of the two countries. That’s why both Switzerland and China are working hard to promote education exchanges. The number of visa given to Chinese students for studies in Switzerland has steadily been increasing in the last years: 521 student visa in 2007, 721 in 2008, 884 in 2009, 1,427 in 2010, and it is still growing. The Swiss student community in China has also been expanding consistently over the years, and their study fields in China are no longer limited to language. They also include economics, social sciences, engineering, natural sciences, and traditional Chinese medicine. The two governments are jointly supporting an exchange scholarship scheme to finance Chinese students to pursue their post-doc studies in Switzerland and for Swiss students to come to China for their higher education. We are very convinced of the value of fostering a dynamic community of “goodwill Ambassadors”, who are the true integrators and intermediaries of our cultures.