In early June, the European Union’s attempt to issue a unified response regarding Chinese human rights abuses was blocked by a single defiant leader: Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orbán. This was not however an unexpected result, and simply marked the latest pro-China move made by the PM. Having previously referred to the EU’s anti-China efforts as “frivolous”, it is clear where Orbán’s support lies, and it is not with his European neighbours.
The past decade has seen Hungary aim to decrease its economic dependence on the West by increasing commerce with Asian countries, China especially, in a strategy known as the ‘Eastern Opening’. In line with Orbán’s populist opposition to increased European integration, this has also resulted in mass Chinese investment in Hungarian infrastructure: in 2013 for example, China funded a $2.89bn reconstruction and renovation of the 374km railway between Budapest and Belgrade. This is consistent with recent Chinese foreign policy: Africa has also received mass-investment in recent years, in return for political support.
Understandably, this increased economic involvement by the Chinese has both the EU and UK concerned. China’s Belt and Road Initiative, aimed at investing in countries around the world, may very well be targeting Hungary as a potential future terminal. With Italy having already joined the BRI, Hungary could prove crucial in solidifying China’s European influence.
China is also getting involved in Hungary’s education sector. The prestigious Funda University, based in Shanghai, has agreed to build a campus in Budapest, to be completed by 2024. The €1.5bn project will only strengthen ties between the regimes, and also has the potential to indoctrinate Hungarian students towards a pro-China mindset.
In a move consistent with China’s shoring up of political support via economic intervention, CCP-owned companies have, over the past decade, become increasingly involved with Hungarian businesses – in 2011 the Wanhua Industrial Group, a major chemical company, purchased 96 per cent of BorsodChem, Hungary’s second largest chemical company.
This situation presents an excellent opportunity for the UK to stand against Chinese expansionism. However, a meeting between the two Prime Ministers in May made no mention of Orbán’s embrace of the Chinese, with Boris Johnson instead focusing on crackdowns on human rights. Johnson’s silence concerning the matter is simply indicative of China’s ever-growing global influence, which President Jinping has only escalated in the past decade, having invested billions in both Africa and Latin America.
Whilst European pressure on Orbán will only bolster his anti-EU base of supporters, the UK must ensure that the CCP are kept out of British affairs. Whilst promising steps have been made already, including the banning of Huawei from our 5G networks, worrying examples of Chinese influence and spending remain. For example Cambridge University professor Peter Nolan has used his position to discourage discussion of the Uighur crisis, aiding China’s international image.
If Global Britain is going to truly succeed, we must stand strong against China’s advance and pressure European nations to reject the CCP’s offers. Together, an international coalition of Western liberal democracies can stem the tide of both authoritarianism and China’s global vision.