Strategic competitors in search of China: The story of Romania and Bulgaria

Andreea Brinza | 20 June 2020

Romanian and Bulgarian interests have diverged on many occasions throughout history, but their outlooks have recently become more aligned. For one thing, both countries have fostered a competitive dynamic to exploit their advantageous position near the Black Sea, or to join the EU and the Schengen Area. Their narratives regarding China are also similar. Today, both countries are part of the 17+1 mechanism, an annual forum between China and initially 16 Central and Eastern European countries (CEE), to which Greece was added in 2019.

Diplomatic ties to China date back to 1949, when Romania and Bulgaria fought for the distinction of becoming the second country, after the USSR, to recognize the People’s Republic of China (PRC). One former high-ranking Romanian diplomat recalled that Bucharest developed the initiative in early 1949, before the official proclamation of the PRC, but Moscow intervened against it. Bulgaria thus won the race, becoming the second country in the world to establish ties with Chairman Mao Zedong’s new government on October 4, just one day ahead of Romania.

More recently, competition for China gained momentum in 2013 with the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and the 17+1 mechanism. Leveraging their geographic position and socio-economic advantages, the honor of being the “Chinese Gateway in Europe” was a goal for both Romania and Bulgaria. On one hand, Romania placed all its strength in the first phase (2013 to 2015) but lost interest along the way. On the other, Bulgaria followed a more linear path and has lately succeeded in generating small yet successful Chinese stories.



This article has been published by Andreea Brînză, Vice President of RISAP, on the website of the Middle East Institute. You can read the full article on the Middle East Institute’s website.

Photo Credits: The New Europe Bridge over the Danube between Romania and Bulgaria (Flickr/Terry Feuerborn)


Andreea Brinza

Andreea Brinza is a researcher and the Vice President of RISAP. Her interests are related to the geopolitics, geostrategy and geoeconomics of the Asia-Pacific region and especially China. Her research focuses on the Belt and Road Initiative.

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