The Popular Republic of China was founded in 1949. Belgium didn’t recognize it yet at this point, as it still recognizing the ancient regime of Kuomintang, who had retreated in Taiwan. As Belgium had many exchanges with China before 1949, a group of Belgians was convinced that our country could not ignore a government that represents the overwhelming majority of the population of the most populated country in the world. In 1957, they established the Belgium-China Association. The most famous of its founders was the internationally renowned politician Camille Huysmans.
The association was initially working along two axes: on one hand, the promotion of commercial relations; on the other hand, the lobbying for the diplomatic recognition of the Popular Republic. Trips to China were regularly organized, either as commercial missions organized by the Economic Commission or as thematic travels, organized by another Commission. Chinese books and magazines translated in foreign languages were distributed in Belgium. Large cultural activities attracted a great number of people. But the most spectacular activity was the organization of Queen Elisabeth’s travel to China in 1961; this was a significant sign of the changes in the otherwise very isolatory attitude towards the Popular Republic of China.
In the year 1971, a radical change took place. Belgium eventually recognized the Popular Republic of China: the political, economic and cultural relations started to develop. The Association was playing a major role in promoting this development, for instance by organizing annual trips to China.
The evolution sped up with the political opening-up policy launched by Deng Xiaoping in 1978. China was opening to the word, firstly to businessmen. The Association was following suit: it was gathering an increasing number of associates, got the attention of a larger public and organized more activities.
The situation changed again in 1989 with the events in Eastern Europe and at Tiananmen Square: it was not easy to declare oneself “friend of China”. Even if the Association was critical about the violence at Tiananmen Square, it kept its positive opinion about the Popular Republic of China, taking into account the huge improvement of the Chinese people’s way of life since 1949.
In the 90s, the economic relations rapidly resumed, but the cultural relations broken off in 1989 were still not officially restored. What is striking is the change in tone in the media: the positive approach of the 80s was replaced by its opposite in a new global context. Although information about China had never been so available, the approach still had to be open and balanced. The reforms implemented the last 20 years were particularly subject to criticism.