China's embassy in Bucharest has ruffled feathers by honoring the last chief of Romania's much-loathed, communist-era secret police.
Iulian Vlad, the Securitate chief from 1987 to 1989, was given an award by the embassy on Sunday for his role in developing relations between the two countries, but news emerged only Wednesday.
Romania is a European Union and NATO member, yet traditional links with China remain strong.
This award "is like a phantom from the past," said Stelian Tanase, a political commentator, suggesting that the Chinese rewarded those who suppressed dissent rather than encouraged democracy.
Romania is still coming to terms with the Securitate, which had an estimated 760,000 informants, and whose files have never been properly opened.
Romanian media quoted Vlad as saying, in his acceptance speech, that "in the seventh, eighth and ninth decades of last century when China was fighting for its rightful place on the international stage, Romania supported its legitimate efforts." He added that the Securitate had contributed to the efforts.
Vlad is currently deputy chairman of the Romanian-Chinese House, a bilateral friendship group.
Vlad was sentenced to 25 years in prison for suppressing the 1989 anti-Communist revolt, but was released after four.