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Renaming the streets around the future site of China’s Fudan University in the 9th district has generated a great deal of buzz, not only in Hungary but internationally as well. While the renaming process appears to to rather target the Hungarian government, an expert warns that Chinese officials will get the message and won’t forget it easily.

As we previously reported, on Wednesday, the 9th district’s independent (but opposition-backed) mayor Krisztina Baranyi, together with Budapest mayor Gergely Karácsony, officially renamed four (uninhabited) streets around the potential, future site of Fudan University. Fudan’s arrival is one of the most debated and divisive cases at the moment in Hungarian domestic politics. Hungarian taxpayers would pay all the costs (HUF 540 billion – EUR 1.56 billion) for the Chinese university, and even the construction of the buildings will be done by Chinese companies. You can read more about the details here and here.

'Free Hongkong,' 'Uyghur Martyrs:' 9th District Mayor to Rename Streets in Protest Against Fudan
'Free Hongkong,' 'Uyghur Martyrs:' 9th District Mayor to Rename Streets in Protest Against Fudan

Opposition to the Chinese university's arrival hasn't been toned down in recent days.Continue reading

“We used this tool because we didn’t have any say in the Chinese university being built with HUF 540 billion of public funds in the area behind us. Not only were we not involved in the preparation or decision-making, but they also hid the existence of the whole project from the mayors of Budapest,” commented 9th district mayor Krisztina Baranyi at the press conference.

Later in an interview with government-critical Magyar Hang, Baranyi once again criticized the government’s change in plans, in which they would provide space for Fudan at the expense of the Student City project. In addition, she once again said that the Budapest Mayor does have one more ace up his sleeve: the Athletics World Championships, which he can pull Budapest out from at any time if the government fails to fulfill the deals they had made. “This is exactly that kind of a case, in which the most powerful tools can be used,” she concluded.

“It’s childish but, at least, it’s funny,” the PMO Chief commented on the street name changes at his regular press briefing on Thursday. On Wednesday, Gergely Gulyás warned that there was still a great deal of uncertainty about the project as talks were ongoing. He also recalled the contract made between the Budapest leadership and the government on Student City, in which the government took on to establish accommodation for at least 8,000 students, and which deal the government would honor.

Liberal 444.hu’s report, meanwhile, demonstrated that unlike the government (and perhaps Chinese officials), local Tibetans have received the new Dalai Lama street warmly, as it gives “a big hope” for the six million of them around the world.

The new street names have definitely raised awareness in international media too. Both the Hong Kong and Singaporean media reported on the happenings along with Bloomberg and the Guardian. Some of the outlets drew a parallel between CEU’s ousting and Fudan’s arrival.

Expert: Chinese wouldn’t get the message, Chinese regime would

Meanwhile, a expert on China spoke about the repercussions the move would generate among the Chinese. The leader of Pázmány Catholic University’s Chinese  department said that three out of four of the new names are incomprehensible to the Chinese, but this wasn’t perhaps the goal either, as they apparently want to target the Hungarian government instead. At first glance, it might seem like witty commentary, the Chinese, however, won’t perceive it as such, since for them Dalai Lama, Uyghur separatists, or the Hong Kong protesters aren’t the enemies of the communist party or the regime, but rather that of the Chinese nation, Gergely Salát explained to tabloid Blikk.

As to ‘Free Hongkong,’ the Chinese think that unlike in the colonial period, Hong Kong is now free. And while they haven’t heard of the re-education camps of Uyghurs, they have heard of the Uyghur terrorist attacks. Bishop Xi Si-kuang is not at all known in China, the Dalai Lama being perhaps the only one name that is understood by most. But the message will definitely reach the Chinese authorities, and Salát warns that such an action from a potential prime ministerial candidate would make an impact. “China won’t disappear from the map after 2022, and while the Chinese can forgive for pragmatic reasons, they won’t forget,” the sinologist said.

Another expert on China, however, says the move wouldn’t produce significant effects on bilateral relations. In the countries where governments maintain a close friendship with China, this unusual way of expressing opinions has become more common, explains the leader of the Károli Gáspár University of the Reformed Church’s Chinese department. If these new street names remain, it would certainly result in the disapproval of Chinese foreign affairs, but this in itself is unlikely to have a significant impact on the relationship between the two countries, just like previous China-critical demonstrations of the currently governing parties haven’t, Ákos Bertalan Apatóczky said.

featured image: 9th district mayor Krisztina Baranyi after the press conference yesterday; via Facebook