Romania and the People’s Republic of China have had close relations ever since Chairman Mao proclaimed the foundation of the new communist state. Today, Romania as a member of NATO and the European Union faces moral problems in its bilateral relations with the Red Dragon. China is the rising economic star and a country, be it democratic, cannot just cut off economic relations with the second largest economy of the planet (and in several years, possibly the largest!), because of Beijing’s violations of human rights in Tibet, Xinjiang (against the Uyghur population) and even in mainland China towards the right of protest, internet freedom or the possibility of creating new parties to compete with the Communist Party of China. We shall see together how bilateral relations have evolved both during Romania’s period as a communist state and after the 1989 Revolution.
Romania has been the third state to recognize the People’s Republic of China in 1949 after its formal proclamation. Ever since then the two countries have maintained diplomatic relations. Through the 1950s, Romania has aided the People’s Republic of China in its development of its oil extraction and refinement industry. After the Prague Spring, and Nicolae Ceausescu’s denunciation of the actions of the Warsaw Pact, Romania faced Soviet invasion. Chinese Prime Minister Zhou Enlai firmly stated that the Chinese people are besides the Romanians in their opposition towards the Soviet Union. During the Cold War, Romania chose to get closer to China, thus having a strong ally to counterbalance the power of the Soviet Union. Romania was not alone in this endeavor, as Albania did the same thing. During the 70s massive floods hit Romania and the Chinese government gave 52.600.000 yuans (25.000.000 dollars) for the reconstruction of the damaged landscape to Romania, this representing one third of the aid received by Romania then. Romania helped Communist China in gaining recognition at the U.N. in 1971, China becoming, thus a member of the General Assembly and of the Security Council.
After the fall of the Communist Block in 1989, the two countries maintained tight relations. The first visit of a Chinese Prime Minister in an Eastern European country was made in Romania by Li Peng in 1994.
(Prime Minister Li Peng with President Ion Iliescu)
During his visit in Romania Li Peng presented the four political principles that the People’s Republic of China will apply in Eastern Europe: 1) to respect the popular will of the sovereign countries and not to interfere in the internal affairs of the respective countries; 2) to develop the mutual friendship and to live in peace and cooperation; 3) to develop bilateral ties in order that both parties to develop and flourish; 4) to encourage peaceful responses towards inter-state disputes thus creating a safe zone for investments (Chinese in particular). But why did the Chinese choose Romania as their first country to visit after the fall of Communism in Eastern Europe? A first argument may be that the former Romanian President Ion Iliescu was class mate with the former Chinese Prime Minister Li Peng during their years of college in Moscow. Another argument may be that traditional relations between the two countries were quite fruitful. Last, but not least, the political figures in both countries wanted to maintain good bilateral relations.
In 1996, President Jiang Zemin came in Romania in an official visit. Romania was not unknown to him, as the former Chinese President knows Romanian because he had lived and worked here as a specialist in the mechanical field. He also enjoys poetry, knowing Eminescu’s poems.
(President Jiang Zemin)
In 2003 when China suffered of an important flue epidemic, and foreign visits avioded the People’s Republic, Prime Minister Adrian Nastase made an official visit to China, visit that was highly appreciaded by President Hu Jintao. Adrian Nastase also wanted to open new gates for Chinese investors in Romania.
(Prime Minister Adrian Nastase speaking with Chinese investors)
After Romania’s admission in NATO and the EU, Sino-Romanian relations reached a standstill. However, the new generation of Chinese leaders, that were elected in 2012 are showing interest in Romania once again. Premier Victor Ponta went to the People’s Republic of China in an official visit and shortly after the Chinese Prime minister Li Keqiang came to Romania. However, the Chinese official’s visit did not go without controversies. Li Keqiang held a speech before the joint chambers of the Romanian Parliament, and requested that the flag of the European Union be removed from the Parliament hall during the Chinese visit, thing that in fact happened.
(Prime Ministers Li Keiqiang and Victor Ponta in a joint press conference)
Apart from this, the Chinese prime minister named Romania an European Tiger and wanted Chinese investors to come both in Romania and the Eastern European countries. The gesture of defiance towards the European Union as well as the interest showed by the new Chinese leaders in Romania and Eastern Europe is not accidental, nor is it a token of benevolence. It is all part of the Chinese foreign policy that is not easy to grasp and it is not new. Chinese economic strategists as well as the military one seek relative advantage over their adversaries. By this China tries to undermine the European Union by entering the Eastern European market, the least developed one and the one that needs the most capital. They have bought assets in the Piraeus Port and also now come to Romania to buy agricultural land and livestock. They are moving towards Poland and Bulgaria as well. This is the basic principle of Chinese foreign policy, to encircle and cut of the logistics and reinforcement potential of their adversaries. In economic terms this is translated as cutting off vital markets for Western economies. No wonder Brussels’ concern towards Chinese incursions in Eastern Europe. Economic development is Romania’s goal as well as the People’s Republics’. But is it healthy for an already flowed democratic system to follow in the footsteps of a socialist country, be it reformed?