Blaise Godet (64) has been based in Beijing since 2008 as Switzerland’s ambassador to China, Mongolia and North Korea. In previous assignments he was stationed in Geneva as Switzerland’s ambassador to the United Nations, in Cairo, where he was responsible for Egypt, Sudan and Eritrea, and in Bangkok, where his remit comprised Thailand, Laos, Myanmar and Cambodia. He is a qualified attorney, having studied law in his hometown of Neuchâtel. Blaise Godet is married and has a daughter, a son and two grandchildren. He will retire in the summer of 2012. We asked him five questions.
Mr Godet, if you had 24 hours to yourself in Beijing, how would you spend them?
I would definitely pay another visit to the various temples around the city. The Lama Temple and the Temple of Confucius are my personal favourites, along with the Fayuan Temple – especially for its fabulous collection of buddhas. There are some fine temples in the mountains to the west of the city, too. Go there and you’ll really feel you’re in China: sometimes in Beijing you could just as easily be in a city in the USA. I might spend some of the time strolling in the parks, too. Not many people know it, but Beijing is like London: it has a lot of green spaces.
How do you feel about SWISS’s new nonstop service between Zurich and Beijing?
I’m delighted! The new services are bound to intensify bilateral relations between Switzerland and China: the new nonstop flight will be a huge boost in political, trade and cultural exchange terms. And it will, of course, help to promote tourist travel, too. I feel that the introduction of the new service reflects the quality of the relations between our two countries. SWISS is, like our embassy’s visa desk, a calling card for Switzerland: if a customer has little idea of the country, it’s the welcome they get – at our desk or as they step aboard – that will form their first impression.
What do you think Chinese visitors expect from Switzerland?
I think many of them still associate the place with “Heidi”. They want mountains and unspoilt landscapes. I have nothing against this. On the contrary: it’s a good starting point for discovering our country. But Switzerland is much more than “Heidi”: it’s high tech, too! And I would like the Chinese to come to see Switzerland more as a possible partner in the education, research and innovation fields.
And what would you like Swiss visitors to see in China?
The complexity of the country. China is more than Beijing, Shanghai and Xian. It also has underdeveloped provinces that need to be helped forward. In some ways it’s still a poor country, but one with phenomenal potential. And it’s a nation that’s de termined to continue its social and economic development. I would like my fellow Swiss to see and feel this energy, and take some of it with them, too. And I urge them all to engage themselves more with this fascinating country!
What has been your personal highlight since you took up your post here?
The moment Switzerland and China agreed to start talks on a freetrade agreement. It’s vitally important for both our countries to maintain and intensify their exchange. Because doing so can substantially open up Swiss access to the Chinese market and Chinese access to the Swiss.