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China’s Xi in Hungary to celebrate ‘new era’ with Orban

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Before his arrival late Wednesday, Xi had praised in an op-ed published in Hungary’s Magyar Nemzet daily a “long-standing friendship” he described “as mellow and rich as Tokaji wine”, referring to the renowned Hungarian vineyards region.

“We have gone through hardships together and defied power politics together amid volatile international situations.

“Our bilateral relationship… has embarked on a golden voyage… On the new journey of the new era, China looks forward to working closely with our Hungarian friends,” he wrote.

HUNGARY PURSUING EASTWARD POLICY

Frequently at loggerheads with Brussels, Orban has pursued an eastwards foreign policy since his return to power in 2010, seeking closer economic ties with Russia, China and other Asian countries.

The nationalist premier remained committed to his strategy even as tensions between Western nations and Beijing have increased over human rights, the Covid pandemic, trade and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Since Hungary began to promote itself as a global hub for electric car manufacturing in 2022, new Chinese businesses have sprung up all over the country.

Xi’s three-day visit to Hungary after passing through Paris “shows Hungary’s growing importance in global politics,” Orban’s chief of staff Gergely Gulyas told a government briefing on Thursday.

According to the Hungarian government, at least 16 different agreements promoting cooperation with China in rail and road infrastructure, nuclear energy and the automotive industry are to be signed.

The Chinese leader kicked off his tour in France, a visit that was cordial but also highlighted tensions between Beijing and the EU over the Ukraine war and global trade.

“HUNGARY PROVIDES A DIPLOMATIC WIN FOR XI”

While French President Emmanuel Macron pressed a message to Beijing not to support Russia’s war against Ukraine and to accept fairer trade, Hungary would provide “a friendlier destination for Xi”, said political scientist Ja Ian Chong of the University of Singapore.

In Hungary, a country with close ties to Moscow and Beijing, Xi will be able to “avoid tough conversations and awkward questions”, he added.

Both countries have called for a peaceful settlement of Russia’s war in Ukraine.

“Hungary provides a diplomatic win for Xi, showing his warm ties with an EU member state that will still roll out the red carpet for Chinese investment,” said Xiaoxue Martin, a researcher at the Clingendael China Centre.

But analyst Claus Soong of the Mercator Institute for China Studies warned that “Xi aims to cultivate an image of China having a European ally and intends to exploit Hungary’s position to undermine EU unity.”

On the streets of Budapest, many tourists were astonished by the heavy security, with police blocking access to sites.

“The Prince of China is here,” smiled an Israeli tourist, who was disappointed not to be able to take the funicular up to Buda Castle.

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