Skip to main content
Policy Kitchen

New recipes for foreign policy

Policy Kitchen focuses on the most important foreign policy issues. Photo: Simon Tanner
Policy Kitchen focuses on the most important foreign policy issues. Photo: Simon Tanner

How should Switzerland react to emerging China? Questions like these are answered by the pioneering Policy Kitchen project with a new methodology. The pioneering project thus provides a contemporary interpretation of democracy and carries new technologies from the business sector into politics. The process is supported by an interactive online platform and regular meetings. A visit to “China Cooking” with former ambassador Uli Sigg in Zurich West.

There are no politicians here at Sphères near Zurich’s Escher-Wyss-Platz. But nevertheless, those attending want to deal with politics – foreign policy more precisely. The first Policy Kitchen workshop is attended by students, PR specialists and people working for international companies. They all have one thing in common: they are interested in China. Because they have their roots in the Middle Kingdom, because they are fascinated by the Asian superpower and its culture, or because they observe China moving ever closer to Europe with its Belt-and-Road initiative.

And there’s something else the three dozen or so people here share: they think that Switzerland should make progress in its dealings with China. That’s why they are devoting part of their free time to thinking what Switzerland could do.

The aim of this project is to create an impact for foreign policy, says head Jonas Nakonz. Photo: Simon Tanner

he event is being hosted by foraus, the think tank for foreign policy founded ten years ago. With Policy Kitchen, the association has launched a pioneering project with the aim of making the political participation process low-threshold and accessible to a broader section of the population. Engagement Migros is supporting the project for three years. “Cooking together” here means developing and refining ideas together, having them evaluated by a high-ranking jury, then preparing the selected ideas with the help of experts, and finally serving them to decision-makers.

“The people here are not politicians, but they have good ideas.”

Jonas Nakonz

Jonas Nakonz is the project coordinator of Policy Kitchen. He was in charge of setting up the platform and the preliminary project. “We want the project to have an impact on Swiss foreign policy,” he says. And he specifies: “The people here are not politicians, but they have good ideas.” Policy Kitchen brings together clever minds, pouring their suggestions into concrete demands, putting them online and later presenting them to a specialist audience and relevant decision-makers.

Different topics are worked on in small groups. Photo: Simon Tanner

That’s what he says at the beginning of the event at Sphères, at this special kind of cooking course. Slicing, mixing, frying, simmering and serving: these are the steps of Policy Kitchen that extend over weeks, sometimes months. In Zurich, the main focus is on slicing and mixing. Ideas are improved or, to stay in the language of the kitchen, their taste is refined. The basic ingredients are the knowledge and experience of those present and of those who will join the discussion online later to further develop the ideas.

The “dishes” that are prepared that evening to be cooked later aim to satisfy a hunger for the following question: What can Switzerland do to best defend its interests in relation to China?

As an introduction to the evening, two China experts report on their experiences with the Asian superpower. Martina Fuchs, who worked for the English version of the Chinese state broadcaster CCTV, gives a brief overview of the challenges (trade war between the USA and China, environmental problems, a president trying to install himself for life) and opportunities (“made in China 2025”, China as a technical leader in artificial intelligence, the Belt-and-Road trade offensive) in connection with China.

Uli Sigg (in the middle) is one of the most profound Swiss China experts. Photo: Simon Tanner

Uli Sigg, former ambassador to China, art collector and connoisseur of Chinese culture, talks about China’s ambition to again be the center of the world and how it is pursuing this goal. He draws attention to the fact that China is taking advantage of liberal laws in Europe and is buying up companies or financing major European projects (Belt-and Road Initiative) in a targeted way. Conversely, however, the Chinese market is still closed to foreign investors.

How can we benefit from growth?
Throughout the evening, Uli Sigg goes from group to group, which are hatching ideas for possible approaches to how Switzerland could make better use of its opportunities in China. He provides input and always draws attention to the background behind China’s actions.

In three groups, ideas are first collected for which areas Switzerland could work more closely with China and where Switzerland could start benefitting from China’s economic growth. This has stagnated somewhat in recent years. At over six percent annually, however, it’s still at a high level.

After the meeting, the ideas can be digitally followed up by the community. Photo: Simon Tanner

In a second round, the topics are selected for more in-depth discussion. The three groups are divided into small groups of two to three people. They now each have half an hour to draw up concrete proposals. At the end of the evening they will have 120 seconds to present them as briefly and concisely as possible. Karin Hess and Ueli Merz are such a small group. Their topic: the 2022 Olympic Winter Games in Beijing and how the Swiss sports industry could benefit from them.

Skiing is becoming more and more popular in China
Hess studied Sinology at the University of Zurich and just spent a year in China, where she also worked as a ski instructor. She herself has witnessed how sport is increasingly becoming a trend in China. She believes that Switzerland and its winter sports industry should be able to benefit from this. Ueli Merz has known China for decades. As the owner of a communications agency and a journalist, he is married to a Chinese woman and is the Vice President of the Switzerland-China Society. In the 90s, Merz recalls, only a few thousand Chinese people skied. By the time the Winter Games start in Beijing, the figure will have risen to 300 million. Switzerland can contribute a great deal to the development of infrastructure and sustainable tourism.

Other groups looked at what Switzerland could do to benefit more from the many Chinese tourists in Europe; how Switzerland could respond to the imbalance in foreign investment; how Swiss companies could become active in environmental protection in China.

Looking forward to further developing the idea machine: Project Manager Jonas Nakonz. Photo: Simon Tanner

The ideas, says project coordinator Jonas Nakonz, are now all online. There they may be commented on and further developed by other interested parties. This is exactly what Policy Kitchen is all about: “a platform where solutions can be worked out together”. This use of collective intelligence is called crowdsourcing.

“To create good solutions, you need diversity.”

Robin Born

It is precisely this “crowd innovation” approach, says project manager Robin Born at Engagement Migros, that is necessary for the further development of democracy. “The political challenges today are complex.” One-dimensional solutions are becoming less and less appropriate to real, complex problems. Creating good solutions requires diversity. Involving as many citizens as possible in the brainstorming and decision-making process guarantees a vibrant democracy and can lead to better answers to burning questions. Policy Kitchen is doing pioneering work in this field, where offline and online elements are skillfully combined.

The ideas on China policy, from the workshop in Zurich and another event held in Geneva, will be presented to various politicians and decision-makers in early summer. At the same time, Policy Kitchen is launching its first global campaign with stations in San Francisco, Nairobi, Bangalore and other cities.