When I arrived in Shanghai in August 2022, I was bracing myself for a challenging time. What began with the world’s most comprehensive and unforgiving pandemic prevention measures, turned abruptly, in literally a matter of days, into something resembling normality. At the time of writing, China has opened its borders again after three years of self-imposed isolation; entry measures are relaxing and the volume of commercial flights is picking up. With these developments comes the opportunity to reconnect.
There are many reasons to seize this opportunity to reconnect with China in education, research and innovation – and I have had the good fortune to witness many of them first-hand. China moves at an incredible pace and is very ambitious regarding science and innovation; the population is tech-savvy, hyper-adaptive and digitalised beyond Europe’s imagination. In downtown Shenzhen, China’s tech-city, self-driving cars are commonplace. While in Shanghai, I’ve witnessed how furniture is designed by artificial intelligence, and my daughter has made a hobby of chasing the robots that serve us in many hotels and even restaurants. Everything is possible here thanks to “Super-Apps” and I have not used cash, or even seen it, since I first arrived.
At the same time, there are reasons to be prudent about reconnecting. The Federal Council’s China Strategy welcomes existing and new collaboration with China in science and innovation, yet it refers to the limits of academic freedom in China, the lack of institutional transparency and increasingly complicated and tense geopolitical developments with directly affect science and technology.
So, where does Swissnex in China fit in? In light of the above challenges, context matters more than ever. In close partnership with our colleagues at the Science and Technology Office at the Swiss Embassy, we have launched tailored programmes to better understand the contextual framework of research and innovation-related collaboration with China. Together with our partners, we explore and shed light on topics such as academic freedom, risk management and research integrity. The aim is to contribute towards the strengthening of China Competences in Switzerland and thereby give bilateral collaboration a more solid foundation.
In order to advance bilateral collaboration, we will leverage our contacts and scout content for the benefit of our Swiss partners. Swissnex in China has and will always be about customised programmes and support. These range from one-on-one guidance for start-ups and sabbaticals for researchers, to targeted matchmaking and roadshows for corporates. However, we will also strive to take a proactive role in shaping bilateral collaboration, which is why we are strategically developing our own initiatives around smart nutrition, healthtech and energy and environment. These are areas which, in my opinion, both Switzerland and China are well positioned in and have something substantial to contribute. And, most importantly, these are topics where collaboration and advancement in science and innovation are in the fundamental interest of our planet and humanity.
China has never been the easiest partner for collaboration in education, research and innovation, but it remains an interesting and relevant one. At Swissnex in China, we now look forward to fostering more in-person connections again, offering our Swiss partners a trusted space and soft landing to explore the wealth of opportunities China has to offer.
My time at Swissnex in China has only just begun! Let’s see where it takes me.