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Shaking Hands with the Dragon: Hungary-China Relations

Zalán Trajbár 2021.04.08.

The last few weeks have seen a rapid flurry of activity on the international stage between the West and China. China began the secret trial of the two Canadian citizens being held in response to Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou’s arrest on a United States extradition order. Canada and various Western countries responded by sending their diplomatic representatives to the trials in a symbolic, but ultimately futile attempt to gain access to the two Canadian citizens. In even bigger news, the United States, United Kingdom, Canada, and the European Union announced sanctions on various entities in the Chinese province of Xinjiang that are reportedly connected to the human rights abuses and ethnic cleansing that is going on in the region. China rapidly fired back with its own set of sanctions, except it chose to include elected representatives of the aforementioned countries, including the Political and Security Committee of the Council of the European Union and the Subcommittee on Human Rights of the European Parliament. It seems that the tit-for-tat sanctions war has begun, and many are forecasting the advent of a new Cold War between the West and China.

Momentum MEP Katalin Cseh Banned from China?
Momentum MEP Katalin Cseh Banned from China?

As part of China’s retaliation against EU sanctions introduced due to human rights abuses in the Asian country, Katalin Cseh, Momentum MEP and Vice president of the Renew Europe Group, was also presumably banned from the country, the politician announced on Facebook. On Monday, The European Union approved sanctions against four Chinese officials involved in […]Continue reading

Foreign Minister Péter Szijjártó publicly criticized the European Union for sanctioning China, despite Hungary initially voting yes to the sanctions. Additionally, Chinese Defence Minister Wei Fenghe made a trip to Hungary to meet with President Áder and other officials just a few days after the sanctions were announced. Of course, meetings such as this take months to plan and execute, but it certainly does not look too rosy from an American perspective.

Foreign Minister Slams EU Sanctions Against Myanmar, China as 'Pointless and Harmful' 
Foreign Minister Slams EU Sanctions Against Myanmar, China as 'Pointless and Harmful' 

Hungary sees the European Union’s sanctions against persons and institutions in Myanmar and China as “pointless, self-aggrandising and harmful”, Foreign Minister Péter Szijjártó said in Brussels on Monday. Speaking to Hungarian press on the sidelines of a meeting of EU foreign ministers, Szijjártó said such strategic decisions were “particularly senseless” at a time when international […]Continue reading

Vaccine diplomacy is also on the rise, with China exporting millions of doses around the world to various developed and developing nations. It has garnered some results, with Hungary and Serbia publicly thanking China for delivering the vaccines, while adopting the narrative that the EU’s vaccination strategy has failed.

Russia is also conducting its own vaccine diplomacy, and in some ways has seen even more success than China. The Sputnik V vaccine is being considered by an increasing number of European countries (in large part due to its reported 90%+ effectiveness) and may even be licensed for production in Europe. What is slightly paradoxical about the Russian situation is that the country has not even vaccinated 5% of its own population, yet Russia is sending hundreds of thousands of vaccines abroad. While this may be, in large part, due to the Russian people’s skepticism regarding the vaccine, (even President Vladimir Putin chose to get vaccinated off camera), it may also reflect Russia’s desire to place its foreign policy interests over the health of its own citizens. It would not be the first time that Russia has done so.

Gov't Commissioner Lázár: Lack of Western Vaccines Caused Deaths of 20,000 Hungarians
Gov't Commissioner Lázár: Lack of Western Vaccines Caused Deaths of 20,000 Hungarians

János Lázár, former head of the Prime Minister’s Office, and member of parliament from Fidesz, told Radio 7 that politicians who had entrusted themselves with purchasing vaccines only from Brussels had made a life-threatening decision. He argued that the purchase of Chinese and Russian vaccines on the other hand, saved over half a million people […]Continue reading

Hungary seems to have become China’s newest and best friend in Europe. In an article by the pro-Beijing Global Times, Hungary is the only country mentioned expressing doubts regarding the EU’s “unfair” treatment of China. A few weeks before that, Prime Minister Orbán attended the 17+1 conference with Chinese Premier Xi Jinping and expressed his thanks and support towards the leader of the Chinese Communist Party.

Hungarian politicians like to emphasize that our relationship with China (and Russia) is one based on practicality and realistic expectations, cold-hearted economic calculus and export opportunities. These arguments make sense when the conversation is about trade, but the reasoning becomes shaky when it comes to massive Chinese investments that have the potential to morph into national security risks.

Orbán: Pragmatic Foreign Policy National Interest
Orbán: Pragmatic Foreign Policy National Interest

“A solely values-based foreign policy dispensing with pragmatism … will necessarily lead to a policy unable to broker a compromise,” Prime Minister Viktor Orbán said at his annual international press conference on Thursday, answering a question. Orbán said reaching compromise was the only way in foreign policy to achieve results, adding that the two remaining […]Continue reading

The most obvious example is the 85% Chinese financing of the Hungarian portion of the Budapest-Belgrade railway, one of the largest infrastructure investments ever made by any Hungarian government. The expected terminus of this railway is the Chinese-owned port of Piraeus in Greece, so the project ultimately serves Chinese economic and strategic interests as well.

And let us hope that Hungary never walks into the Chinese debt-trap that has befallen many countries around the world who have chosen to build critical infrastructure with Chinese loans.

Then there is the Huawei research facility. This past October, it was announced that a new research center would be opened by the Chinese state-owned tech giant in Budapest. It is unclear why Hungary decided to go through with this at a time when most other European countries are ridding their telecommunications infrastructure of this company (in large part due to U.S. pressure).

Foreign Minister: Good Cooperation with Huawei National Interest
Foreign Minister: Good Cooperation with Huawei National Interest

Continuing good cooperation with telecoms giant Huawei is a national economic and strategic interest for Hungary, Foreign Minister Péter Szijjártó said on Friday. Szijjártó, who is attending the second Belt and Road international forum in Beijing, held several one-on-one meetings, among others with James Li, Huawei Technologies European regional chairman, and William Wu, head of […]Continue reading

Hungary does have a unique relationship with China, or rather, the Chinese people. In the 1990s, due to a change in visa laws, Hungary became the first European country to allow Chinese citizens visa-free travel and easy immigration. This is one of the main reasons why the Chinese population of Hungary is estimated at around 50,000 strong, with 30,000 living in Budapest.

Chinese people make up the largest non-European immigrant population in Hungary, therefore, it makes sense that the two countries have a basis for a cultural relationship.

But we’re talking about a regime that places its ethnic minorities in concentration camps, and the Xinjiang situation is not a new phenomenon. China has stifled any and all attempts by Tibetans towards autonomy or independence and has colonized the region with ethnic Han people.

For a country like Hungary, which considers national minority rights to be paramount, the positive relationship with China is paradoxical.

How can we call out the EU for its inaction regarding the Minority SafePack Citizens’ Initiative, when we are the most pro-China voice in the EU?

In the featured photo PM Viktor Orbán with Xi Jinping, the President of the People’s Republic of China. Photo by Balázs Szecsődi/PM’s Press Office