“As a Bulgarian and a former Bulgarian ambassador to Beijing, I am proud of the fact that Bulgaria is the second country in the world to recognize the Republic of China on the third day of its announcement,” said Angel Orbetsov, a career diplomat. On October 2, 1949, the Chinese government approached the Bulgarian government with a proposal to establish diplomatic relations. The next day, October 3, the Council of Ministers adopted a Decree recognizing the Republic of China and exchanging diplomatic representatives. The telegram with which Foreign Minister Vladimir Poptomov notified Beijing of the decision was sent the same day. Soon afterwards, in September 1950, the first ambassadors of the two countries – Tsao Syanzhan and Yanko Petkov – presented their credentials.
These significant events in the Bulgarian-Chinese relations are part of the series of diplomatic testimonies coming mainly from the former socialist camp, which support the establishment of the People’s Republic of China on the international scene.
Established diplomatic relations provide a strong impetus for Bulgarian-Chinese cooperation in all areas in the 1950s. It has its peak with the official visit of Bulgarian Prime Minister Anton Jugov in 1957 at the invitation of his Chinese homologue, Zhou Enlai. Among the most important achievements of cooperation during this period is the training of dozens of Chinese students and post-graduate students who set the foundations of Bulgarian studies in China.
Unfortunately, world policy shakes also affect Bulgarian-Chinese relations, so their development was not smoothly. The next period from the early 1960s was marked by cooling in bilateral relations due to the Soviet-Chinese confrontation. During the “cultural revolution” in China, relations were practically frozen, and the diplomatic presence in the period 1967-1971 was reduced to the ad interim level. However, lessons have been learned from this period. The new course of modernization and opening to the world, taken over by the Chinese leadership in the 1980s, is triggering a gradual review of China’s policy in the former Soviet Union and Eastern European countries. In the second half of the 1980s, relations between Bulgaria and China were fully restored due to efforts of a number of Bulgarian and Chinese politicians, businesspeople and diplomats, some of whom still making valuable contribution to promoting the partnership between the two countries.
Significant state and governmental visits were made, which set a new solid foundation for Bulgarian-Chinese cooperation. Looking at this fruitful period, it would be interesting to note that some “fourth-generation” Chinese leaders, who are now taking over the country’s leadership, visit Bulgaria as senior Chinese delegats.
The disturbing events in Bulgaria and China in 1989, regardless of their interpretation and political outcomes, have a significant impact on the foreign relations of the two countries. They also affect bilateral relations that have been stalled in the early 1990s. The good thing is, that this period ends quickly.
Gradually, in both countries’ diplomacy, the pragmatism and the understanding that differences in political systems must not hinder the development of mutually beneficial cooperation break through. Political dialogue is intensifying – a number of significant visits have been carried out at the highest level, which outlined the continuing up-to-date period of ascending development of Bulgarian-Chinese relations.
Some of them are: the visit of President Petar Stoyanov in 1998 – the only official visit of a Bulgarian President to China for the last 20 years; the exchange of premier visits of the Bulgarian Prime Ministers Jean Videnov in 1996 and Sergey Stanishev in 2006, and the Chairman of the State Council of the Republic of China, Dzhu Zhondzi in 2000; the parliamentary contacts development marked by the visits of the National Assembly Presidents Alexander Yordanov (1993), Acad. Blagovest Sendov (1996), Yordan Sokolov (1999) and Ognyan Gerdzhikov (2002), and from the Chinese side – the Presidents of UAN U Banguo (2004) and PKCCN Li Zhuihuan (2002) and several of their vice-presidents. We can continue with a great number of visits by Deputy Prime Ministers, Foreign Ministers, Heads of the Judiciary, Economic and Other Departments, Political Party Delegations, Representatives of Public Organizations and Local Authorities, Business Associations, Creative Unions, Sports Federations and many others.
Two joint declarations, dating back to 1998 and 2006, set out the principles for the development of bilateral relations defined in the second declaration as a comprehensive partnership and cooperation. Among them, Bulgarian politicians and political leaders belonging to different political parties have repeatedly declared the principle of „one China“ to which Bulgaria adheres strictly and irresistibly. It should be highlighted that this position has indeed endured the trials of time – from the establishment of diplomatic relations to the present day, regardless of the tides in these relations. A little-known fact in this respect is, for example, the “good services” of Bulgarian diplomacy in the second half of the 1990s to persuade our neighbors in the Republic of Macedonia to correct their mistake recognizing Taiwan, which has led to a number of undesirable consequences.
Multilateral cooperation between Bulgaria and China puts new goals ahead of the diplomacy of both countries. It is not about solving political problems, because they have been overcome long ago. Diplomatic offices, incl. the embassies of both countries in Beijing and in Sofia are called upon to make considerable efforts to keep pace with the dynamics of time, to support and channel the intense bilateral exchange, to come forward with reasonable proposals and initiatives, and to analyze the processes in both countries and their adjacent regions. In recent years, important steps have been taken to strengthen Bulgaria’s presence in China and the one of China in Bulgaria. In 2005, the first Bulgarian Consulate-General in the Asia-Pacific region was opened in Shanghai, and in 2007, the first cultural center Confucius in the Balkans opened in Sofia. The tasks of the two diplomacies today go far beyond traditional ideas. The actions and success of diplomats are increasingly measured in the way they contribute to real human exchange.