A decision by Switzerland to join the China-proposed Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) has garnered much praise in China, where analysts call the move a crucial step that will open up massive possibilities for cooperation and strengthen bilateral trade and economic ties.
Switzerland is set to join a growing number of countries signing up for the BRI, injecting fresh momentum to the joint development of the bold economic program aimed at connecting economies from Asia to Africa to Europe.
In a statement on Tuesday, the Swiss Federal Department of Finance announced President Ueli Maurer will pay a state visit to China from April 22 to 30, during which the two countries will sign a memorandum of understanding on cooperation in third markets under the BRI.
"The aim of the memorandum is for both parties to intensify cooperation on trade, investment and project financing in third markets along the routes of the BRI," the statement read, adding that details would be announced after the signing.
Following the same move by Italy last month, Switzerland's decision also underscored the rising popularity of the BRI among countries, including those in the West, said Liang Haiming, dean of Hainan University's Belt and Road Research Institute.
"After Italy joined the BRI, we predicted that more Western countries would follow suit," Liang told the Global Times on Thursday.
"It's not just Switzerland; there will be more countries to join the BRI," Liang said.
Last month, Italy became the first developed Western country to join the BRI, after signing a memorandum to support the initiative.
While some other Western countries have been rather reluctant over backing the BRI and even sought to discredit it with a smear campaign, Italy and Switzerland took the step because there is huge potential for economic cooperation, analysts said.
Joining the BRI means Swiss companies will be able to get involved in infrastructure and other projects in participating countries, according to Liu Ying, a research fellow with the Chongyang Institute for Financial Studies at Renmin University of China in Beijing.
"There is massive potential for multilateral cooperation under the BRI," Liu told the Global Times on Thursday. "Small countries like Switzerland are more independent when it comes to multilateral trade and cooperation."
Trade among BRI markets has surged in recent years. Between 2013 and 2018, trade volume between China and other BRI countries and regions exceeded $6 trillion, with annual growth of 4 percent, according to data released by the Chinese Ministry of Commerce on Thursday.
During the period, Chinese companies also invested more than $90 billion in markets along the routes of the BRI, the data showed.
Beyond just cooperation under the BRI, Switzerland will also enjoy strengthened ties with China, where opportunities for bilateral cooperation abound in sectors such as financial services and technological innovation, analysts said.
"Switzerland has a robust financial services sector, particularly in asset management, and China's rising middle class will have huge demand for those services," Liang said.