US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo arrived in Central Europe on Tuesday to begin his tour of four Central and Eastern European (CEE) countries aiming to bolster anti-China sentiments in the region. Budapest is not among his destinations, due to the Hungarian government’s ties to Chinese businesses.
On August 11th, Mike Pompeo started his five-day CEE journey featuring a visit to the Czech Republic, Slovenia, Austria, and Poland. According to the US State Department, the aim of the visit is to extend the Trump’s administration’s efforts to counter Chinese and Russian influence in the region.
The topics discussed on the trip will include cyber and energy security, the redeployment of US troops in the region and – most importantly – the details behind CEE governments’ plans to roll out new 5G networks. The main concerns surround Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei’s attempts at providing the necessary 5G infrastructure for countries in the region.
Despite initial difficulties, the White House’s anti-China campaign in Europe is gathering momentum. Pompeo’s trip comes after the UK’s sudden ban of Huawei last month. His trip is aimed at encouraging CEE countries to join “a new alliance of democracies” to challenge “the Chinese century of which Xi Jinping dreams.”
Athough some CEE nations are becoming increasingly dissatisfied with the economic results of their “17+1” initiative and the nature of their ties to China in general, Hungary has still not committed itself to one side of the US-China duel. Budapest still enjoys perhaps the closest ties of any EU capital to Beijing, with Huawei already working on the construction of Hungary’s 5G network.
Asked about Pompeo’s decision to skip Hungary on his CEE trip, Péter Krekó, head of Budapest-based think-tank Political Capital told Balkan Insight that “Warsaw and Prague are both following the line of this US administration more closely, [and] Pompeo’s decision not to visit Slovakia or Hungary definitely sends a message.”
Despite “sending a message,” good relations between Washington and Budapest are not lost. Trump still has relatively strong political ties to fellow national populist Orbán. Although no names were mentioned, Pompeo was likely to refer to Hungary’s unique geopolitical position when he stated at the start of his journey “It’s difficult for some small countries (…) They fear being picked off. Some of them for that reason simply don’t have the ability, or the courage to stand with us at the moment.”
on the featured photo: Pompeo arrives to the Czech Rep.; via MTI/AP/Pool/Petr David Josek