Businessman Zheng Zhong told “Labor”: Apathy is the biggest challenge in Bulgaria, not corruption

What are the conditions for business and the scale of corruption in Bulgaria in the eyes of foreign investors? Can we introduce severe punishments for bribe officials? Are the hardworking and skilled workers in Bulgaria enough? And there are horizons of cooperation between small Bulgaria and multi-million-dollar China – we talk about these topics with the businessman Zheng Zhong, born in China.


– Mr. Zhong, you have been living in Bulgaria for more than 25 years, and for more than 10 years you have been developing business here, and it has been successful. Many entrepreneurs – both ours and others – complain about the development environment, the bureaucracy and the attitude of the state towards their initiatives and efforts. Do you think the business conditions in Bulgaria are good enough or Chinese hard work and perseverance can break even the toughest obstacles?
– Bureaucracy exists in most countries in the world. About Bulgaria, I dare say that it is not as bad as we make it. If a person, at the first hurdles, gives up, no country in the world is good enough for him. Of course, there are times when I’m also very angry at the bureaucracy here, but these are momentary emotions that go away when one sees the shortcomings and problems in other countries.


– You have come very young in Bulgaria and have grown up here. Why did you choose our country with your family to live and work? The world is big and the Chinese are welcomed everywhere.
– I came to Bulgaria several months after my parents arrived. They had gone to Russia at first, but our relative, who was at that time in Bulgaria, told them that it was nice here too. My parents came for a few days, and stayed over 25 years. And we do not regret our choice one bit.


– China has long opened up to the world and all countries are looking for Chinese investments. In Europe they are over 30 billion euros, but in eastern Europe they are only 2% of this amount. And in Bulgaria they seem to be very insignificant. Is only the small market and our insufficient resources against the backdrop of the enormous Chinese country and its economic power? Or are there other factors that are lacking in order to further develop our economic cooperation?
– China over the last decade has paid more attention to Central and Eastern Europe. The clearest sign of this is the establishment of the platform for cooperation between the countries of Central and Eastern Europe with China, the so called “16+1”. The mission is to strengthen the economic, cultural and political relations between all countries, including Bulgaria. Of these 16 countries, Poland, the Czech Republic, Hungary and Serbia are working very intensively with China. One of the main reasons is that there is a much larger Chinese community in these countries that helps promote the country in China. Traditionally, they also have a much better relationship with China than we do. I am convinced that our region will become more and more interesting and strategic for China and the best times are yet to come.


– Prime Minister Boyko Borissov and Chairman of the State Council of People’s Republic of China agreed at the “16+1” meeting in Sofia to establish a Global Partnership Center of the Central and Eastern European Countries to help the Chinese companies enter the EU, their participation in tenders and procedures. How is this project developing and will we see real results?
– You should get the right answer to this question from the competent authority responsible for this issue. I think that the Bulgarian side will probably be represented by the Ministry of Economy or the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences. It is difficult to say when we are going to get real results because this structure will be more involved with research and consultancy. That is, even if they have a real effect, I suppose, will not be noticed immediately.


– On the “16+1” meeting in Sofia, 7 possible deals with China were also discussed. Among them are the 1.5 billion-dollar low-interest loans from the China Development Bank to small and medium-sized Bulgarian companies, Chinese fast rail investments, connection between the Danube and the Black and Aegean Seas, the construction of roads and highways, the construction of Belene NPP and the export of 10 000 tons of Bulgarian tobacco to China. Is there any development on any of these initiatives?
– Of the projects mentioned above, the granting of credit by the Chinese Development Bank has become the most developed one since there is a long-standing cooperation between the Bank and the Bulgarian Development Bank, and the mechanisms and models of work have been established. The Chinese bank gives the loans to the Bulgarian bank, and it gives then to end-users. All other projects negotiated between the two countries are still subjects of many long negotiations and with unclear ending.


Zheng Zhong was born in Chengdu in China in 1988. At the age of four he comes with his family to Bulgaria. He graduated from the “St. Cyril and Methodius” High School in Sofia, with a Economic Management degree and a bachelor degree in Political Sciences at New Bulgarian University. He is a Charles Mozer Fund scholarship student (2013), owner of Terraland Group. Its companies invest in agriculture, IT and online media. He is Chairman of the Council on Economic and Diplomatic Relations and special adviser to the Diplomatic Institute at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs on issues related to China. Speaks Bulgarian, English, Chinese and Arabic.


– One is also talking about the One Belt, One Road initiative, which aims to connect China on land with Europe on the ancient Silk Road. It should cover 65 countries on three continents. Is there a place on this route for Bulgaria?
– Of course! Bulgaria is on the Silk Road and can benefit greatly from the projects related to this initiative. Chinese companies have taken the ports in Thessaloniki and Piraeus on concession and the goods that are unloaded there, traveling to Western Europe, can pass through Bulgaria. The ports of Varna and Burgas can also accept goods and then ship them to Europe. Most importantly, Bulgaria, as part of the Silk Road, is within the scope of the countries with which China will cooperate on this initiative. In this way, China looks strategically to our country. How, when, where, and with whom are still the subject of subsequent agreements that the governments of both parties must do. If Bulgaria were not on the Silk Road, there would be no opportunity for these conversations at all.


– You probably know the Bulgarian expression “there are jobs for all Chinese people”? In recent years, employers have consistently claimed that there is a lot of work, but there are no people for it. They even offer, and some have started, imports of workers from other countries. What is your impression – can you easily find labor and how do you assess the labor qualities of the Bulgarians?
Labor is easy to find, but a good, fair and loyal workforce is a deficit. There is no need to hide this problem, it is obvious that it exists, and we must all figure out different ways of solving it. I get very angry when a politician goes out and says that this problem does not exist – all people are extremely educated, hardworking and disciplined. The minimum wage must be at least 1000 euros and he will fight against the big bad corporations that exploit the population. Typical populist allegations in order to get a few more votes during the elections, but with these speeches he deceives the majority of people as he says the exact things they want to hear. And these people will not bother to sel develop, learn, improve and think.


– According to unofficial but publicly disclosed data, there were about 6-7,000 Chinese people in Bulgaria a decade ago. Now there are about 2,000! Why are your countrymen leaving our country?
– As you know, a large number of Chinese people in our country are doing business selling clothes or having Chinese restaurants. In the clothing business, e-commerce are now making it so easy for consumers to purchase that more and more people prefer to shop online and you can buy anything on the internet. Due to e-commerce companies’ high turnover, the products are at attractive prices and the offline traders have no competitiveness. The Chinese restaurant business also does not make high margins and I do not think it’s an attractive industry. With the rapid development of China, many Chinese are returning to China to seek opportunities or go to other countries.


– When you talk about Bulgaria and Bulgarians, you say “we”. Are you more Bulgarian or Chinese?
I am a Bulgarian citizen and I have a Bulgarian passport for over 5 years. I travel to China with a visa.


– Have you had trouble obtaining a Bulgarian passport? At the end of last year there was a scandal for the trade of state officials with Bulgarian citizenship
– I had no problems, I have been living in Bulgaria for a long time and I meet all the conditions and requirements…


– The problem of corruption for years is considered one of the most serious obstacles to business and social development in Bulgaria? What does your experience show – Is corruption a problem in our country and to what extent?
– Like bureaucracy, corruption also exists everywhere. Even in the most democratic countries there is some form of corruption. From my observations, Bulgaria is relatively good in this direction. In my opinion, the existence of corruption is not so scary – it is unpleasant, but it is not scary. Because it’s a questions of financial planning after all. I have such and such expenses and income, draw the line, and see if the final result suits me. Minor and medium forms of corruption cannot in no way stop an ambitious and capable entrepreneur. The more serious problem is that the wages of the civil servants are too low. You cannot ask a young person with a Master’s degree to work for you at a 300-350 EUR salary. The end result is always “we lie to him that we pay him, and he lies to us that he works.” And when business depends on their actions, and they are demotivated – it is no longer acceptable to me.


– But not everyone is a solid businessman, and be able to calculate money for bribes in his business plan. For a regular citizen, even a small sum is impossible. And should money be given at all to someone for him to do his job?
– I do not want to be misunderstood. Corruption is an unacceptable phenomenon and we need to fight it. But it cannot be an excuse for our indecision or failures. When one starts something, he must be clear and understands what is waiting for him and what obstacles he has to overcome.


– China has for years been making a hard and uncompromising fight against corruption. Can the measures introduced and whether the result can be used in our country?
– China is a country that has very long traditions and laws. It would be difficult to introduce such measures in Bulgaria because one law must first be adopted and accepted by the people. There are death sentences in China, while it cannot be implemented in Bulgaria – we are part of the EU, NATO and other organizations that have some restrictions. But corruption in China is a big problem, and it is difficult for them to fight it with their own laws. The corruption in China is in much worse dimensions. I realize that among the people in Bulgaria there is feeling that the corruption in Bulgaria is very high. I would like to say it again – corruption exists in every country and cannot be fully eradicated. Even in countries that we look up to, corruption is often more terrible than it is in Bulgaria.


– They say the wish “To live in interesting times” is a Chinese curse. Is it really interesting times that we live in today in in Bulgaria?
– I think it is interesting because Bulgaria is in this stage of its development, where it has a lot of potential. Many young people here have the incredible opportunity to create spectacular things that could last long after they were gone. The problem is that apathy among the people, especially among the young people, is a big challenge that we are facing. Again, I would like to tell our government that it is mainly their duty and responsibility because they have the tools that shape the people’s attitude and create the environment in which we all live in.


– Some historians and political observers say the 19th century was the UK, the XX – the US, and the XXI will be China. Do you share this forecast? And where in this new world that is being arranged now do you see the place of Bulgaria?
– I fully agree with this statement. My opinion is that Bulgaria has taken the right decisions to join the EU and NATO. China has a very ancient saying “small countries do not have diplomacy,” and it will always be true. But as part of a much larger and more influential community, to a certain extent, the interests of the country will be protected. Bulgaria will always be of interest to China, being part of the EU and the 16+1 format. And whether this interest will be large or minimal – it depends on the efforts and qualities of the people who are working in the interests of the bilateral relations.


Souce: “Labor” Newspaper