Interview by President Rumen Radev for „Global times“
GT: This year marks the 70th anniversary of diplomatic relations between China and Bulgaria. What are the joint activities planned for the occasion?
Rumen Radev: 2019 is an auspicious year for 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 proudly say that Bulgaria should be considered the first country to recognize the People's Republic of China.
On this wonderful anniversary, we have planned many diplomatic, economic, cultural and academic events throughout the year, both in Bulgaria and China. We have a political dialogue this year. I am very grateful to
President Xi Jinping for his kind invitation that is the first in five years by a Bulgarian president. It shows the importance the nations attach to their relations, which will hopefully boost the development of our mutually beneficial cooperation. The high point of this visit is the consent between our countries to raise bilateral relations to a level of strategic partnership, which is perhaps the most significant element of celebrations of the 70th anniversary of diplomatic relations.
We hope to raise Bulgaria's profile and visibility in China through numerous Bulgarian events planned to mark the anniversary. We hope 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 friend of China.
GT: This year also marks the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China. How do you see changes in China in the past and what does China's development mean to Bulgaria?
Rumen Radev: I congratulate President Xi and the Chinese people on this historic anniversary. What China has achieved in 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 transformed lives of hundreds of millions of people. For the people of Europe, and for the European Union, it is very important that China continues to develop on the path of reform and opening-up. The peaceful rise of China is of significant importance to the international community.
For us, China's economic growth means increased opportunities for trade and investments. 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 culture, 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 a bridge between Europe and Asia. We are open to potential Asian investors aiming to gain access to markets far and wide. Bulgaria fully complies with EU norms and regulations, including openness, a level playing field, sustainability and transparency in its economic ties with all partners, including China. Market-based business models such as Public-Private Partnership, concessions and project financing are open to Chinese partners.
GT: Agricultural trade between China and the Central and Eastern European Countries (CEEC) has grown rapidly. The Chinese government proposed jointly building agricultural "demonstration zones" with Bulgaria. What's your view?
Rumen Radev: Agriculture is indeed a promising and important sphere of cooperation with vast opportunities. Bulgaria has rich traditions in the production and processing of high-quality agricultural products and food. We are working closely with the Chinese authorities to improve market access for Bulgarian agricultural and food products.
Bulgaria is home to the origin of products such as yogurt, rose oil and its products. It is also a traditional producer of reasonably priced high-quality wines, as well as fresh and canned fruit and vegetables.
Within the Initiative for Cooperation between China and CEEC, the "17+1," Bulgaria hosts the center for the promotion of cooperation in agriculture. In cooperation with Bulgarian and Chinese universities and institutions in cities 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 first "16+1 Demonstration Center" for E-Commerce was unveiled in February this year in Plovdiv, Bulgaria.
GT: The Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) aims to promote China's cooperation with the CEECs and beyond, in trade and investment, traffic connectivity and people-to-people exchanges. Yet some claim that the BRI would lead some countries to a "debt trap" or "regional hegemony." What is your response?
Rumen Radev: I consider the BRI as a very important strategic concept, not only for China but also for all the countries under the initiative. Bulgaria 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 people-to-people contacts.
China's direct investments to Bulgaria are 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.
GT: The BRI has become a juncture connecting countries and regions in trade, economy and culture. You have mentioned that Bulgaria embraces the BRI. What are the opportunities that Bulgaria looks forward to exploring with China and other member states under this initiative?
Rumen Radev: The BRI is a long-term program, not limited in time and scope. Bulgaria has put on the table for our Chinese partners projects in the energy sector, transport, port and railway infrastructure, electrical transport, agriculture. We would like to see Chinese institutions and companies actively studying and working on the implementation of those projects.
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 China to consider the opening of a direct flight to Sofia and some other cities in the Balkans.
We are open to cooperating with China in the field of winter sports as part of preparations for 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing.
GT: China and Bulgaria have jointly proposed to launch the 16+1 Global Partnership Center, designed for the BRI, in Sofia. What benefit would the center bring about for China, Bulgaria and countries in the region?
Rumen Radev: The establishment in Sofia of the Global Partnership Center (GPC) within the "17+1" Initiative is aimed at promoting 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.
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, it is important to deepen our respective awareness of the relevant rules and regulations, business environment 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 CEECs and China with knowledge on these matters.
The Center provides intellectual support for "17+1" cooperation through think-tank organizations, in order to enhance communications and deepen mutual understanding between the CEECs and China. The Center plans to organize training and consulting activities to promote cooperation in trade, investment, infrastructure and to help various players in the "17+1" format to better understand the legislation of the EU, the CEECs and China. We hope that the Center will contribute to even stronger economic ties, boost Chinese investments and tourists in Bulgaria and the region, and bring more Bulgarian and European products to the Chinese market.