Taipei Times: Switzerland is relatively far from East Asia, and your nation, with its long history of neutrality, does not seem to exercise a great deal of influence in this region. Why is Taiwan important to Bern?
Bruno Frick: Taiwan is important to Switzerland in many ways, but particularly in two areas. The first is, of course, as a very important economic partner. Switzerland-Taiwan trade equalled US$1.6 billion last year, with a trade balance in favor of Switzerland. My country exports about US$1 billion to Taiwan each year, and Taiwan's direct exports to Switzerland reached US$600 million in 2004.
The second area of importance is Taiwan's role as a strong democracy -- perhaps the leading democracy -- in East Asia. Taiwan and Switzerland are partners in freedom and democracy. We also have many important cultural exchanges.
TT: So since Switzerland and Taiwan are "partners in freedom and democracy," Bern must have an interest in preventing a conflict between China and Taiwan. What can Switzerland do to reduce tensions in the Taiwan Strait?
Frick: The key is for Switzerland to be realistic. We must recognize the reality of the situation. Taiwan can not declare itself independent now, but it is a de facto independent state. Everyone -- the whole world -- knows this. China is trying to reduce Taiwan's power and international influence. So the Swiss must be aware of this situation and remember that Taiwan is a free country.
TT: But is there nothing more substantial that can be done? For example, although Switzerland is not a member of the EU, it does have some influence on its European neighbors through trade and political dialogue. So when the EU was considering lifting its ban on arms sales to China, did Switzerland take action?
Frick: Our country does not interfere in the internal politics of other countries, and does not try to shape their policies -- unless it is a matter of protecting human rights.
However, Switzerland has banned the sale of weapons to China because of its human-rights record and its occupation of Tibet. Our country will do what it can to ameliorate the human-rights situation in China, and we are working to reform the [UN] Human Rights Commission [in Geneva].
TT: Taiwan has tried 13 times to join the World Health Assembly [WHA, the World Health Organization's governing body] as an observer. Many here view the failure of the WHA to allow Taiwan to join as a violation of human rights, as well as a danger to international health. Does Switzerland back Taiwan's effort to join the WHA?
Frick: I believe that the WHO should invite any organization that can a play a role in dealing with health issues to join it. Obviously, the politics involved with Taiwan's WHO bid hinge on whether it can be accepted as a "state." But I think that some kind of observership role should be accorded to Taiwan to close a dangerous loophole -- as shown with the SARS outbreak.
TT: You met with President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) early in your visit, and he pointed out that Bern had voted against Taiwan in its most recent bid to join the WHO. He asked you to support Taiwan's next bid. Will Bern vote differently next year?
Frick: Again, I believe Taiwan should be given a role as an observer. I support the bid, and I will speak with others in my government about this issue.