The People’s Republic of China was founded in 1949. But Belgium continued to recognise the old Guomindang regime, retrenched on Taiwan island, as the government of China. Before 1949, Belgium actually used to have a lot of contacts with China and so, there were quite a number of Belgian people convinced that our government could not ignore a government representing the overwhelming majority of the people in the most populated country of the world. Under their impulse the Belgium-China Friendship Association was established in 1957. The most famous founder was the internationally renowned politician Camille Huysmans.
Originally the Association was working along two strategic axes: promoting commercial relations and lobbying for the diplomatic recognition of the People’s Republic by Belgium. During the first years, several delegations to China were organised, either as commercial delegations by the ‘Belgium-China Economic Commission’ or as thematic study tours by one of the other commissions under the Association.
Chinese publications in foreign languages were distributed in Belgium. Important cultural manifestations even got coverage by the mass media. The absolute topper was the journey to China by the kings’ grandmother, queen Elisabeth in 1961; it was a significant illustration of the cracks starting to appear in the policy of isolating China.
The situation changed completely in 1971: Belgium established diplomatic relations with the People’s Republic , and official political, economic and cultural relations started developing slowly but steadily. The association fully supported this development and our missions to China became annual.
The open-door policy introduced by Deng Xiao-ping after 1978 would accelerate things. China became more easily accessible, first to business people, then to everybody. The Association was rising on the tide of history: more collaborators, more activities, more interest from all layers of society.
The events rocking through Eastern Europe in 1989 and the incidents of Tian An Men square would again change the situation: it was no longer obvious to come up as a friend of China. Our Association adopted a critical attitude towards the disproportionate violence by the Chinese government but continued to consider the overall development of China as very positive for the Chinese people.
In the nineties, economic relations between the two countries resumed fast, but cultural relations were not officially resumed. The position of the mass-media has profoundly changed: the positive approach of the eighties has in the new geopolitical environment given way to its contrary. Never has there been more information about China available than today, and still the need for a balanced approach remains acute. The reforms of the last twenty years are the subject of study.