A group of four MPs from each party in Bulgaria’s Parliament are embroiled in controversy after accepting a free trip to Taiwan – not only in sharp contrast to Bulgaria’s stance on China but also while President Rossen Plevneliev was on a landmark visit to Beijing.
The members of Parliament, who saw some landmarks of their own, sparked ire because of the trip, news of which came soon after the controversial visit to Syria by Bulgarian Socialist Party MP Strahil Angelov. Angelov’s trip, in violation of Bulgarian foreign policy, has been a major embarrassment for the government and the party in power.
Like the United States, European Union and Russia, Bulgaria does not recognise Taiwan as a separate country. In 2014, Bulgaria and China are marking 65 years of diplomatic relations.
In the past few months, top Bulgarian state officials who have made the visit to Beijing include the president, prime minister and Speaker of Parliament.
The MPs who went to Taiwan are Roumen Yonchev of the BSP, Vladimir Toshev of GERB, Petya Raeva of the Movement for Rights and Freedoms, and Ventsislav Lakov of Ataka.
Yonchev told reporters that he had been invited by Taiwan and had invited members of other parties who he thought were interested in foreign policy and Taiwan.
Asked whether it was appropriate that a foreign country had paid for their journey, Yonchev said that this was a practice established long ago all over the world.
He said that during the trip, “we presented our position on the One-China policy, which is also the position of Bulgaria and the EU”.
Such visits had been made over the past 15 to 20 years, Yonchev said. “Whenever there is such a visit there is normally a note from the Chinese embassy or the foreign ministry in which there is some protest. This is standard practice in international relations. I expected that this will be the case this time.”
Ataka’s Lakov said that the visit had not been official, with the trip paid for by Taiwan and some other expenses met by the members of the group “and it did not cost the Bulgarian taxpayer a penny”.
“During our visit to Taiwan we in no way represented Bulgaria’s position,” Lakov said.
“Our visit aimed at getting to know the country. We visited a high-tech park, cultural sights, a museum of history. There was an idea that a country that marks a very high economic growth could invest in Bulgarian companies. We in no way expressed Bulgaria’s position. The EU has a visa-free travel agreement with Taiwan and so we did not need visas to travel to it. My personal phone is Taiwanese, my computer is Taiwanese, my tablet as well, Taiwan is present in Bulgaria as a producer, ” Lakov said.
The MRF’s Raeva said that the goal was economic relations. “At the end of June there is a food fair in Taiwan and Bulgarian companies will participate.”
GERB’s Toshev said that the purpose of the trip was about economic relations. He said that he had not bought items such as electronic equipment in Taiwan because “the prices were similar to those in Bulgaria”.
He had bought a China tea set, Toshev said.
The group admitted that the socialist Speaker of Parliament, Mihail Mikov, had warned them not to go.
But, Yonchev said, Mikov was not a headmistress who initiated or stopped the informal contacts of members of Parliament.
Mikov told reporters that the visit by the members of Parliament had been a private one, not involving the Bulgarian state and would not change or affect the position of Bulgaria in its relations with China.
“I do not think visits of this magnitude reflect Bulgarian foreign policy,” Mikov said.
Asked whether the members of Parliament would face sanctions, he said that was up to their individual parliamentary groups.
Among those criticising the trip was socialist MEP Iliyana Yotova, who said that the established practice of the European Parliament was for its members not to accept trips in which the host country paid all expenses, “as this violates the principle of objectivity”.
Kristian Vigenin, the former MEP who currently is foreign minister in the BSP administration, said that he did not see the trip by the members of Parliament to Taiwan as cause for a diplomatic row between Bulgaria and China, because Bulgaria had been consistent in its position on the issue.
“We support One China,” Vigenin said.
Reporting the trip, daily Sega said that it was now clear that BSP MP Angelov was not the only “volunteer” in Parliament who worked in the interests of the Bulgarian economy privately.
(Photo of Chiang Kai-shek memorial, Taipei: AngMoKio)