How the United States-Romania Partnership Is a Blueprint for America’s Allies

October 19, 2020 Updated: October 19, 2020

News Analysis

The head of Romanian diplomacy, Bogdan Aurescu, will have political consultations with the U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Monday during his visit to the United States.

This is the third visit of a Romanian official in only eight days and was preceded by the visit of Romania’s defense and economy ministers, from Oct. 7-11.

All visits by Romanian ministers visits are in line with the “Joint Statement” of the Presidents of Romania and the United States, signed on Aug. 20, 2019 and during the consultations on Monday the two heads of diplomacy will evaluate the Strategic Partnership stage, starting from the objectives established by the “Joint Statement.”

Regional developments will also be addressed during the consultations, with a focus on the Black Sea region and security on NATO’s Eastern Flank as well as the strategic projects promoted by Romania within the Three Seas Initiative, organized this year by Estonia on Oct. 19.

Prior to this, on Sept. 5, Bogdan Aurescu attended the closing session for the 4th edition of the Black Sea and Balkans Security Forum, organized in Bucharest and in his remarks, he analyzed the concept of resilience, which has been on the NATO and EU agendas for several years.

In his presentation, the head of Romanian diplomacy, underlined the interdependencies between the concept of resilience and aspects such as hybrid threats, and strategic communication and countering disinformation and emphasized the importance of applying this concept also for the regions neighboring the European Union and NATO, as an answer to the current geopolitical tendencies, at a Balkan Security Forum in September.

Deepening Ties Between the United States and Romania

A few days prior to Aurescu’s visit, on Friday, the United States and Romania signed an intergovernmental cooperation agreement that will facilitate the construction of two new nuclear reactors and the refurbishment of another at the Romanian nuclear plant on the Danube river, Cernavodă.

The development took place after the Romanian government requested the Romanian Nuclear Power Company Nuclearelectrica to end negotiations on a Belt and Road project: the construction of two nuclear reactors at the Cernavoda nuclear power plant with China General Nuclear (CGN). The request noted that the Romanian government will find new partners for the project.

On the day of the deal, the U.S. ambassador to Romania, Adrian Zuckerman, wrote on Twitter: “Romania no longer has to fear existential danger since it terminated its agreement with China General Nuclear to rebuild Cernavoda”.

The newly signed intergovernmental cooperation agreement was praised by the U.S. and Romania parties: “Romania has become  an important gateway for U.S. companies to the European Union”, Zuckerman said, and his view was shared by the Minister of Economy of Romania, Popescu, who said in a statement that “Romania is taking a great step forward today in the development of its strategic partnership with the United States of America (…) We promised, and we fulfilled, a strategic mission: Identify partners of the NATO for Reactors 3 and 4 in Cernavoda”.

Popescu’s observation of a “huge step” is not a figure of speech, as a few years ago, in 2013, Romania was leveraging its geographical position and socio-economic advantages to become the “gateway for China to Europe.”

Negotiations with China to build reactors at the Cernavoda nuclear power plant began 10 years ago, and at the time, there were both Western and Chinese companies competing for tenders, but CGN prevailed. The planning to invest around U.S. $7 billion to enter Romania was a stepping stone for Beijing to enter the EU nuclear energy market while promoting its Belt and Road Initiative in Eastern Europe.

Meanwhile, things got more and more complicated. Romania and the United States signed a missile defense deployment agreement in 2016; NATO has established a few bases in the country; and Romania becomes a key ally for Western countries to confront Russia.

For Romania, balancing the negotiations between the United States, NATO, and China proved difficult, but this year, in a January interview with Hotnews, Romanian Prime Minister Ludovic Orban clearly stated: “It is clear to me that it will not work with the Chinese.“

Historically, Romania has had close ties with China. In 1949, communist Romania was the third country to recognize the independence of the People’s Republic of China and in 1971 Mao welcomed the Romanian communist dictator Nicolae Ceausescu in Beijing.

After the 1989 Revolution, after the Communist era, Sino-Romanian relations stagnated relatively, but were rekindled in 2013 when the then prime minister announced his goal of elevating bilateral relations to the level of a strategic partnership. During the 2013 “16 + 1” Summit in Bucharest, the Romanian government developed more than half a dozen project proposals and many Memoranda of Understanding were signed with Chinese companies. However, by 2020, they were all abandoned. The negotiations on the two nuclear reactors of the Cernavoda nuclear power plant turned out to be the last to be canceled.

The Economic and Geopolitical Context

The context of the signing of the agreement between the United States and Romania is quite complex and we have to go back a few years for the relevant context.

In May 2015, the Chinese government launched “Made in China 2025”, a state initiative that seeks to make China dominant in global high-tech manufacturing and aims to achieve 70 percent self-sufficiency in high-tech industries by 2025, and occupy a dominant position in global industries by 2049.

One of the goals of Made in China 2025 is to expand China’s role in nuclear power generation in developing economies around the world and to export China’s nuclear reactors to the Belt and Road economies (BRI ). In June 2019, the China People’s Political Consultative Conference suggested that 30 Chinese reactors could be built overseas by 2030 as part of the BRI.

For the United States and other Western countries, these targets raised concerns about Chinese espionage, and in 2016, the United States accused China General Nuclear (CGN) of spying on the United States and placed the company on the entity list, which restricts export to those on the list.

To overcome the threats posed by China, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo ignited alliances around the world and on Feb. 15 this year he warned that Huawei and other Chinese state-backed tech companies “are Trojan horses for Chinese intelligence.”

In addition to Made in China 2025, the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) has caused widespread concern that it is a push for Chinese dominance in global affairs. The global development strategy adopted by the Chinese government in 2013 includes infrastructure development and investment in 152 countries in Asia, Europe, Africa, the Middle East, and South America.

In 2015, the Romanian Ministry of Economic Affairs and the Ministry of Commerce of China signed a memorandum of understanding on the promotion of the joint construction of the Silk Road Economic Belt. Romania became the first country to sign such an agreement with China.

The former “16 + 1” initiative (now “17 + 1” initiative with the addition of Greece in 2019), created in 2012—one year before BRI, has now become a subset of BRI. In a December 2018 report, the Foreign Policy Research Institute warned that Beijing’s ultimate goal in the Black Sea region was to put countries on a “pro-Beijing axis.” Among the key findings of the report is that Beijing has hosted more than 200 official conferences, summits, and other meetings since 2012 for participants from Central and Eastern European countries under the “16 + 1” platform, to “identify and prepare pro-Chinese voices within the political, business and journalistic community”.

The report showed that in Romania, China’s state-run China General Nuclear Power Group had been in talks to build two reactors at the Cernavoda Nuclear Power Plant and Beijing was also negotiating to build a trade corridor linking China to the Romanian Port of Constanta.

Romania’s Strategic Partnerships

Last year in April, the then Romanian government stated that developing relations with China was one of the diplomatic priorities of its country and that Romania supports and actively participates in the construction of the Belt and Road Initiative and China-Central and Eastern European Countries cooperation, and is willing to play an active role in the European Union to promote the development of relations between Romania and China, as well as EU-China ties.

That statement continued a trend from 2013, when the then Prime Minister of Romania proposed to the Chinese Communist Party leadership that the relationship between Romania and China be elevated to the level of strategic partnership.

Before 2013, the United States and Romania issued the “Joint Declaration on Strategic Partnership for the 21st Century Between the United States of America and Romania”, in 2011, and identified key areas for enhanced cooperation, focusing on political-military relationship, law-enforcement cooperation, trade and investment opportunities, and energy security.

Finally, last August, when the Romanian president Klaus Iohannis met with President Donald Trump at the White House, they issued a “Joint Statement” and took the strategic partnership to a deeper level to “create new opportunities for greater security, growth, and prosperity and be in better position to respond to shared global challenges and responsibilities.”
The United States and Romania also recognized that energy security is national security and stated that both nations will consider “how to improve the energy investment climate in Romania in ways that benefit both countries.”

Identifying energy issues as national security means a much greater role for Romania’s Supreme Council of National Defense (chaired by President Iohannis), and under a proposed new bill, reviewing 5G issues would require approval of the Supreme Council of National Defense.

On the same day of the Trump-Johannis meeting at the White House, both countries signed a Memorandum of Understanding that agreed on the threats posed by untrusted 5G providers.

The effect of the 5G memorandum was quickly seen as Romania postponed the tender for the 5G network due to the need to transpose the memorandum into a national regulation.

Context of the 5G memorandum

In recent years, Washington was concerned about Huawei’s expansion into its NATO allies in central Europe, including Hungary and Poland, and Romania has become particularly important since 2016, when the United States activated an $800 million missile shield site, which angered Russia.

Huawei has been present in the Romanian market since 2003 and in the same year, Huawei Technologies Co., Ltd. started operating in the telecommunications market in Romania. In 17 years, Huawei has established in Romania its local offices, the European Center for European Accounting and the Global Service Center.

In 2019, Romania planned to launch its tender for 5G frequencies in the fourth quarter of 2019; however, now, the tender has been postponed until the second half of 2020, as the Romanian government agreed through a memorandum adopted on May 21, 2020, to establish an inter-institutional 5G working group that is tasked with identifying the necessary measures to ensure the security of 5G networks in Romania, in accordance with EU recommendations.

Establishing a Strategic Environment in the Central and Eastern European States

In the context of a growing trade conflict with China, the partnership between the U.S. and Romania reflects much more than bilateral relations.

The meeting of the presidents of the United States and Romania last August laid the foundation for the strategic environment in the Central and Eastern European states. Moreover, the adapted statement emphasized the militaries “posture on NATO’s Eastern Flank, including in the Black Sea, which is of strategic importance for transatlantic security” and seek “to avoid the security risks that accompany Chinese investment in 5G telecommunications networks”.

This document was the first official Romanian statement that directly referenced and highlighted Chinese investment in 5G as a potential problem and had an explicit criticism of the Nord Stream 2 project for increasing the dependence of regional allies on Russia’s gas supply.

By explicitly drawing criticism of Russia and China, the Joint Statement was expanding the strategic environment internationally. And most importantly, it showed Romania’s readiness to achieve common strategic goals together with the United States, thus becoming a framework for America’s allies in Central and Eastern Europe.