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50 years of diplomatic relations

THIS year Switzerland and Singapore proudly celebrate 50 years of the establishment of diplomatic ties between them, marking the golden jubilee of the warm and friendly bilateral relations. Below are some of the milestones along the way.

On Oct 9, 1967, the Swiss Federal Council decided to officially establish diplomatic relations with the young nation of Singapore by transforming the Swiss Consulate in Singapore into an Embassy. Then Consul Heinz Suter was given the title of Chargé d'Affaires ad interim. At that time, the Embassy's offices were housed on the 17th floor of an office building on Orchard Road.

In 1979, Switzerland rented land on the premises of the Swiss Club, in the lush green surroundings of the hills of Bukit Timah. On this piece of land, the new office building - which is still being used today - was built. The Embassy was opened in 1987 and the newly arrived Kurt O Wyss was the first Head of Mission with the rank of Ambassador.

Though economic ties were augmented largely throughout the first decades of Singaporean nationhood, it was not until 1991 that the first official visit from Switzerland to Singapore took place. Then Federal Councillor Pascal Delamuraz met his counterpart, the then Minister of Trade and Industry, later Prime Minister, Lee Hsien Loong.

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Over the past decade the frequency of these official visits has intensified tremendously, showcasing the importance of Singapore for Switzerland's financial and economic interests. Today, about 450 Swiss companies have established offices here in Singapore, many of which serve as regional headquarters.

Hardly a year goes by without a Swiss federal councillor visiting Singapore or a Singaporean minister paying a visit to Switzerland. The diplomatic highlights so far have certainly been the first presidential visit to Switzerland by Singapore's President Tony Tan Keng Yam in May 2014 and the first State Visit to Singapore by the President of the Swiss Confederation, Federal Councillor Johann N Schneider-Ammann in July 2016.

Over the past 50 years, the relations between Switzerland and Singapore have evolved and grown steadily. Since 2000, the number of Swiss citizens registered at the Swiss Embassy has tripled from 1,061 to over 3,300 in 2017, making Singapore the country with one of the largest Swiss presence in Asia. This year, the Swiss Embassy is celebrating the golden anniversary with a variety of official, cultural and social festivities.

On the diplomatic front, Swiss Ambassador Thomas Kupfer welcomed three official delegations from Switzerland. In March, the Bureau of the Council of States of the Swiss Confederation, led by its president, Ivo Bischofberger, visited the Singapore Parliament and some of the important Swiss pillars in Singapore. In April, Switzerland's Finance Minister Ueli Maurer led a high-ranking financial delegation to Asia, with Singapore as one of the trip's highlights. In June, Switzerland's Defence Minister Guy Parmelin came to Singapore for the Shangri-La Security Dialogue and a bilateral visit.

This brief look at some of the major events in the growth of the 50 years of bilateral ties cannot be exhaustive. To know more about the Swiss presence in Singapore - even beyond the past 50 years - there are lots of interesting and informative stories to be found in the well researched book by Swiss author Andreas Zangger, The Swiss in Singapore. The book is available at the Swiss Embassy and at the Swiss Club.

The Swiss Embassy in Singapore looks forward to celebrating the 50 years of diplomatic relations.

To learn more about the upcoming events, go to the Swiss Embassy's Events Calendar online (www.eda.admin.ch/singapore) or visit it on Facebook (swissembassysingapore).

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