The President of Bulgaria Rumen Radev (Photo: Courtesy of the Bulgarian Embassy in China)
At the invitation of President Xi Jinping, President Rumen Radev (Radev) of Bulgaria is paying a state visit to China from July 1 to 5, during which he attended the 13th Summer Davos. The traditional friendship between the two countries has continued to grow. At present, the two sides have maintained close cooperation at all levels, achieving notable results in cooperation in areas such as economy, trade, agriculture, and deepened people-to-people and cultural exchanges, setting a good example for country-to-country relations.
The Global Times (GT) reporter interviewed President Radev during his visit who talked about his expectation for Sino-Bulgarian ties.
GT: This year marks the 70th anniversary of the diplomatic relations between China and Bulgaria. What are the joint activities that mark this special occasion for both sides?
Radev: 2019 is indeed an auspicious year for the Bulgaria-China relations. Bulgaria is the second country in the world to establish diplomatic relations with the People's Republic of China. The first was the Soviet Union, which does not exist anymore. We jokingly, but also proudly, say that Bulgaria should be considered the first country to recognize the People's Republic of China.
On the occasion of this wonderful anniversary we have planned many diplomatic, economic, cultural and academic events throughout the year, both in Bulgaria and China. We have a particularly dynamic and high-level political dialogue this year. I am very grateful to President Xi Jinping for his kind invitation of this state visit by a Bulgarian president to China that is the first one in five years. It is a recognition of the importance Bulgaria and China attach to their relations, which will hopefully boost the development of the mutually beneficial cooperation between our two countries in all spheres.
We hope to raise Bulgaria's profile and visibility in China through the numerous Bulgarian events planned here to mark the anniversary with exhibitions and concerts. Through these events, we hope that our Chinese friends will learn more about our rich history, culture and traditions. Bulgaria is a friendly country offering excellent opportunities for business, investment, travel, study, and a true and trusted friend of China in Europe.
GT: This year also marks the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China. How do you see China's changes in the past decades and what does China's economic development mean to Bulgaria?
Radev: I sincerely congratulate President Xi Jinping and the Chinese people on this historic anniversary. What China has achieved in its development in the past decades in the fields of economy, society, technology, and poverty alleviation is remarkable. The policies of reform and opening-up to the world have not just made China the world's second largest economy, but also a leading global actor and technological power. They have also tremendously transformed the lives of hundreds of millions of people and lifted them to a new level of development with opportunities. For the people of Europe, and for the European Union, it is very important that China continues to steadily develop on the path of reform and opening-up, as a factor of peace, stability and development in the world and the region. The peaceful rise of China in accordance with the principles of the UN Charter and the WTO is of great importance and has significant positive impact on the international community.
For us, China's economic growth also means increased opportunities for trade and investments at a bilateral level. We would welcome a much stronger presence of Chinese business, investments and technologies in the Bulgarian economy. Bulgaria is steadily becoming an important hub of cultures, industry, logistics as well as a key energy transit center. Five of the 10 Pan-European transportation corridors run across our territory. EU membership, political and fiscal stability, developed infrastructure and communications, and favorable business conditions, including a low corporate tax of 10 percent, strengthen Bulgaria's position as an essential bridge between Europe and Asia. We are open topotential Asian investors aiming to gain access to the vast European market, South East Europe, the Middle East, North Africa, and Central Asia. Bulgaria attaches particular importance to fully complying with EU norms and regulations, including openness, a level playing field, sustainability, transparency, etc., in its economic ties with all partners, including China. Market-economy based business models such as Public Private Partnership, concessions, project financing, etc. are open to Chinese partners. We are happy to see Chinese companies participating in different projects in Bulgaria on their own or in cooperation with Bulgarian, European and other companies.
I would like to invite the Chinese business community to consider Bulgaria as a country of great opportunities and friendly and business-oriented central and local authorities.
GT: The agricultural trade between China and the Central and Eastern European Countries (CEEC) has grown rapidly, with the annual trade volume amounting to $1.2 billion. The Chinese government proposed jointly building demonstration zones for agricultural cooperation with Bulgaria. What are your views on the building of the demonstration zones?
Radev: Agriculture is indeed a promising and important sphere of cooperation with vast opportunities. We have a clear and definite conjunction of interests in this sphere. Bulgaria has rich traditions in agriculture, and in the production and processing of high quality agricultural products and food, which could satisfy Chinese consumers' tastes. We are working closely with the Chinese authorities to facilitate and improve market access for Bulgarian agricultural and food products.
Bulgaria is home to the origin of products such as yogurt, rose oil and rose oil products. It is also a traditional producer of reasonably priced high-quality wines, as well as fresh and canned fruit and vegetables. Now our delicious cherries and apricots are in season. There is so much we can offer to Chinese consumers, including organic products. Bulgaria is the EU country where the agricultural zones for producing bio products cover the largest part of its territory compared to all other EU countries.
Within the Initiative for Cooperation between China and CEEC, the "17+1," Bulgaria is the host country of the very active center for the promotion of cooperation in agriculture. In cooperation with Bulgarian and Chinese universities and institutions in places like Shanghai, Ningbo, Shenzhen, the center has established agriculture demonstration zones and e-commerce networks, open to all the countries taking part in the Initiative. The demonstration zones are just the beginning. They will help companies from both of our countries to identify their interests, potential and to draft options for future cooperation.
The first 16+1 Demonstration Center for E-Commerce, which is a part of the demonstration zone for China-CEEC agricultural cooperation, was unveiled in February this year in Plovdiv, the second largest city in Bulgaria and a major link to the transportation routes connecting Sofia and Istanbul, with vibrant local economic growth. Hopefully, more will follow soon in other cities in Bulgaria and the CEECs, showcasing the huge potential of agricultural trade.
GT: The Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) aims to promote China's cooperation with the Central and Eastern European Countries and beyond, in areas of trade and investment, traffic connectivity and people-to-people exchanges. Yet some claimed that the BRI would lead some countries into a "debt trap" or "regional hegemony." What is your response to this?
Radev: I consider the Belt and Road Initiative as a very important strategic concept, not only for China and its connection with the outer world, but also for all the countries alongside the Belt and Road Initiative, including Europe, the CEE countries and Bulgaria as well. Bulgaria has signed the MOU on the BRI in 2015. We believe that for optimal results in our region, the BRI should develop in synergy with existing connectivity, transport and logistical platforms like the Trans-European Transport Network, the EU-Asia Connectivity Strategy and the EU-China Connectivity Platform. We view the BRI as a good opportunity for enhancing the connectivity between Europe and Asia and for attracting investments in our economy. We would like to see more practical results in all sectors of the Initiative - energy, transport, infrastructure, and human contacts. For us, it is important that BRI projects will be financially, ecologically and socially sustainable and implemented in compliance with the principles of openness, transparency, and a level playing field.
China's direct investments in Bulgaria are still quite small, much smaller than what we would like to see. The question you asked about the "debt trap" simply does not apply in any form to us. Furthermore, being a part of the EU family and having a very sound fiscal policy, Bulgaria has a very stable and predictable financial system.
GT: The Belt and Road Initiative has become a juncture connecting different countries and regions in trade, economy and culture since it was launched. You mentioned on several occasions that Bulgaria embraces the BRI. What are the future opportunities that Bulgaria looks forward to exploring with China and other member states under this initiative?
Radev: The BRI is a long-term program, not limited in time and scope. Bulgaria has put on the table for our Chinese partners a number of possible projects in the energy sector, transport, port and railway infrastructure, electrical transport, agriculture, etc. We would like to see the relevant Chinese institutions and companies actively studying and working on the implementation of those projects. Some of them have very visible regional importance.
Tourism is a very promising area of cooperation. This year Bulgaria established visa application centers in 15 major Chinese cities to facilitate the visa application process. A Bulgarian tourism promotion center was recently established in Beijing as part of a set of similar centers in other cities. We are trying to convince our Chinese partners to consider the opening of a direct flight to Sofia and some other cities in the Balkans. The new Beijing Daxing International Airport offers excellent opportunities for the expansion of the air links between the two countries.
Bulgaria has excellent winter sports training facilities and bases. We are open to cooperate with China in the field of winter sports as part of the preparation for 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing.
GT: China and Bulgaria has jointly proposed to launch the Global Partnership Center of CEECs, designed for the BRI, in Sofia. What interest would the center bring about for China, Bulgaria and the countries in the region?
Radev: The establishment in Sofia of the Global Partnership Center (GPC) within the "17+1" Initiative is aimed at promoting the further development of the CEEC with China's cooperation under the norms and regulations of the CEEC, EU and China. When I made a suggestion to Premier Li Keqiang during our meeting in May 2018, he immediately embraced the idea after perceiving the exceptional value of such a structure.
Bulgaria is an active participant of the "17+1" and as you know, successfully hosted the summit meeting in Sofia in July 2018. We believe the Initiative has great potential for boosting cooperation, especially in the field of economy. In order to see tangible economic results, particularly in the field of economy, it is important to deepen our respective awareness of the relevant rules and regulations, business environments and opportunities for trade, investments and tourism. This is why during Premier Li's visit to Bulgaria, we proposed to establish the GPC in Bulgaria as a tool to assist businesses in the CEEC and China with knowledge on these matters.
The Centre is a think-tank, jointly led by the Institute for Marketing at the Bulgarian Ministry of Economy and the China Institute of International Studies at the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, in partnership with the Economic Research Institute at the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences. The Centre provides intellectual support for "17+1" cooperation through the institutional cooperation of relevant think-tank institutions and organizations, in order to deepen communications and mutual understanding between the CEECs and China. The Centre plans to organize training and consulting activities and exchanges to promote cooperation in trade, investment, infrastructure, etc. and to help various players in the "17+1" format to better understand the legislation of the EU, the CEECs and China. The GPC could provide advice for the implementation of projects, establish a network of contacts between institutions, trade and business associations, enterprises from the CEECs and China, and facilitate business contacts.
We hope that the center will contribute to even stronger economic ties, more Chinese investments and tourists in Bulgaria and the region, and more Bulgarian and European products in the Chinese market.