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Recap: In conversation with Swiss Ambassador Bernadrino Regazzoni

On Friday, 17th June, STEAR hosted an event in conversation with the Swiss Ambassador to China, Mongolia and the DPRK, H.E. Bernadrino Regazzoni. Through this discussion, listeners were given unique insights on Ambassador Regazzoni’s career, as well as his thoughts on Diplomacy and Swiss-China relations. The event forms part of the STEAR Dialogue series, a format which invites high level speakers under the broad umbrella of international relations across Eurasia to engage with our youth audience in an interactive question-and-answer format. Focusing on more personal, experience-oriented and diverse themes including career development, advice for young people, culture, activism, etc., the event series gives our audience a chance to get to know practitioners and experts in different fields on a deeper level through Q&A style discussion, and for our speakers to interact with an audience of mostly students and young professionals.

Moderated by STEAR Events Officer Tinkara Godec, the event was attended by approximately 40 participants from around the globe. If you missed the event, read on for the key points discussed.

Ambassador Regazzoni and moderator Godec began by identifying the highlights of living in China. Though the pandemic has limited certain more exciting aspects, in normal times Beijing is a vibrant place to live, both due to China’s role as a key geopolitical actor and the opportunity of extensive travel within the vast nation.

Recommended reading material for aspiring diplomats was next on the agenda - geographical maps, rather than books, were highlighted as useful tools. Not only do they teach one about geopolitics, they also reveal how the world, countries are shaped, which links in closely to the former. They can be impetuses for travel and discovering every corner of the world.

The career path, working life, greatest achievements and inspiration of Ambassador Regazzoni were touched on next, with his first professional roles including that of University Assistant. The most helpful professional advice ever doled out to Mr. Regazzoni was to work hard, and take pleasure in what you are doing. He is inspired by the mantra “hard work first, and then inspiration will follow”.

When asked the main challenges of being a diplomat, the Ambassador described his perception of his role as a service - by serving, representing one’s country, one devotes one’s own qualities to the nation. It is a very creative job, where one learns by doing. While there are some instructions, individual qualities play a major role. With regards to being a diplomat in China specifically, the necessity of adaptation, with a very large cultural gap, were identified as important factors. The language can be a challenge, as can the country’s more strict, formal system. This experience was contrasted with that of working as a diplomat in Africa, where the entire process is more direct. With any country, one must take the significance of national history into account when dealing with diplomatic relations.

The Covid-19 pandemic was highlighted as a challenging event in China, with lockdown, the new organisation of everyday life, the impact of travel restrictions, and the obstacles met by Swiss companies, whom the ambassador has a commitment to support. Our speakers also discussed the geopolitical nature of the pandemic, alongside the lack of physical meetings since 2020.

In terms of the strategic relationship between Switzerland and China, it was affirmed there has been some level of agreement, with a marked increase of bilateral trade with China in recent years. Over the past twenty years, challenges have changed, with common ground shrinking as both countries move into different directions and phases of development. The question of whether embassies matter less with more focus on global relationships and less focus on bilateral relationships was met with the assertion that media presence is now different - and the state tends to act around media. An important thing to remember in diplomacy is that the tweet is only an additional instrument!

Finally, our speaker and moderator broached the topic of Swiss neutrality. While by law, Switzerland cannot join any military alliance, policy allows for some level of influence; neutrality does not mean indifference.

About the speaker

H.E. Bernardino Regazzoni, Ambassador of Switzerland to the People’s Republic of China, Mongolia, and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea

Mr. Bernardino Regazzoni holds a doctorate in Philosophy and began working at the Department of Foreign Affairs in 1988. He previously worked in the Democratic Republic of Congo, and in Côte d'Ivoire before being promoted to Deputy Head of the Political Affairs Division I (Europe, North America) in 1996. From 1999-2002 he was Counselor for Diplomatic Affairs to the Hon. Minister of Foreign Affairs, before becoming Ambassador for Switzerland.

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