Chinese olive branch used as political smear campaign tool by Hungarian opposition politicians
Fudan University located in Shanghai, China Photo: VCG
Antagonistic forces are rarely the only actors to stir up anti-Chinese sentiments. This time Budapest has become a new battleground, the flashpoint being the construction of a satellite campus of one of China’s most illustrious universities.
On June 5, thousands took to the streets of Budapest to oppose the construction of the satellite campus of Fudan University, which is slated for completion by 2024, citing issues such as a $ 1.5 billion construction loan from a Chinese bank and the land set aside for the project initially intended for student housing.
However, the staged public outcry has invariably turned out to be the latest blow from an anti-China camp. A variety of subversive groups – separatists from Tibet, the island of Taiwan, and academics with close ties to US-funded Sino-skeptical think tanks – and their involvement in the march is not only evident, but in response to appeals from Budapest Mayor Gergely Karacsony of the opposition party Dialogue for Hungary.
In a move intended to undoubtedly antagonize China, Karacsony plans to christen three different streets near the planned campus “Free Hong Kong Road”, “Dalai Lama Road” and “Uighur Martyr’s Road” in an effort to highlight the baseless allegations of human rights violations. allegedly committed by China. It is the same brand of antagonism that was undoubtedly a key element in fomenting the June 5 protests in the Hungarian capital.
His antagonism towards China stems in part from his recent ambition to take over the country to become prime minister, which prompts him to attack the Chinese policies of the government of the day. Deceiving voters and creating a showdown over the Fudan University project has become his gadget, observers said.
Observers of Eastern European politics told the Global Times that Karacsony’s party is young and is aiming for new leadership positions in the upcoming elections in coalitions with other opposition parties. Human rights and freedoms have turned into important weapons in internal political struggles in some Eastern European countries, where opposition parties are winning votes by flaying ruling parties over their Chinese policies , a similar scenario also in the Czech Republic.
For example, when the current Hungarian government has repeatedly blocked European Union sanctions against China over matters related to the Xinjiang and Hong Kong regions, Karacsony unequivocally tweeted his support for the island’s participation. from Taiwan to the World Health Assembly and praised the island’s performance in the fight against COVID. -19, a baffling decision given the surge in confirmed cases on the island due to the neglect and politicization of the epidemic by separatist-oriented Tsai Ing-wen.
In the case of the Fudan satellite campus, Karacsony and his colleagues were actively engaged in a smear campaign from the start.
At a conference on May 17, Karacsony complained that the Fudan satellite campus “would represent a very serious risk to the national security” of Hungary.
National security risk – another familiar excuse that the United States repeatedly abuses – has become a tool for Karacsony’s baseless accusations.
Some political parties in the Eastern European Union are taking extremely strong positions against the Communists. This hostility has been exploited by some politicians for personal political gain, Zhang Hong, associate researcher at the Institute of Russian, Eastern European and Central Asian Studies at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, told the Global Times. .
Hungarian news agency MTI quoted Tamas Schanda, a government deputy minister, as saying the protest was unnecessary. He also rejected “political hysteria” on the basis of gossip and unfounded media reports.
Echoing Karacsony’s espionage concerns in connection with the planned project, Peter Kreko, director of the Budapest-based think tank Political Capital, further pointed out that “Hungary has become somewhat of a hub for spies. Russian and Chinese because (…) of the unwillingness of the intelligence forces to push back the malignant foreign influence “on his Twitter.
Kreko, a former member of the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) – a veteran anti-China foundation funded by the US government – is another advocate for the “Chinese threat” behind the protests.
He is also a member of the NED-funded Center for European Policy Analysis and has repeatedly demonized China as “emphasizing open knowledge” and eroding Hungary’s “economic sovereignty”. He has long criticized Beijing and Moscow for “undermining Western democracy”.
Kreko frequently interacts with the Alliance of Democracies, an organization invested by the US Congress and funded by the NED, which has been put on the Chinese government’s sanctions list because of its baseless libel.
The American embassy also took the opportunity to get involved. A statement issued by the US Embassy in Budapest to the Hungarian newspaper Magyar Hang unsurprisingly denounced the Fudan project, alleging: “The possible opening of the first campus of Fudan University in Europe is a cause for concern, because Beijing has a proven track record of using its higher education institutions to gain influence and stifle intellectual freedom.
In recent years, the United States has led its allies to become more ideologically hostile to China, which has led to an unhealthy political environment in Europe and deep-rooted prejudices against China. Karacsony and Kreko are representatives of American interests, observers said.
Flags of the Tibetan separatist group were also clearly visible during the protest. But many of the flag bearers did not look like Tibetans, but rather Europeans. “It reminds me of the street protests in Hong Kong, which hired many locals to be anti-China advocates,” one Sina Weibo user commented.
These anti-China activists are banding together to profit from the chaos. But they are by no means the dominant voice. Economic and trade cooperation between China and Hungary at higher levels, joint efforts to tackle climate change, fight terrorism and oppose US unilateralism remain the dominant consensus, according to experts.
The view of Budapest, Hungary Photo: VCG
Outcome of EU political quarrels
Animosity towards China’s investment in Europe is met with opposition as high as the European Parliament, with Canadian-born Hungarian European Union MP Katalin Cseh of the Hungarian Momentum Movement party admitting to the media that she had asked EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell to prevent the establishment of the Fudan satellite campus in Budapest, saying the campus posed a greater risk to the European bloc, although it could not provide any concrete evidence to support this claim.
The proposal to establish a branch of Chinese Fudan University in Budapest was approved in December 2019, the biggest investment in Hungary’s education sector in decades. Media reported that the satellite campus plan came from the educational cooperation between the School of Economics at Fudan University and the Hungarian Central Bank which extended a well-run cooperative degree program to the new campus.
“This in itself is a question of diversification of Hungarian education. But voices of a ‘Chinese threat’ try to make the EU fear that China is dividing Europe … The ‘Chinese threat’ is has become a cheap political tool in some small parties, ”he added. Zhang said.
In this context, Hungarian Prime Minister Victor Orban has quickly become a thorn in the side of the EU in recent years.
The Hungarian leader continues to gain popularity in his home country, thanks to his continued cooperative ties with China.
In recent months, Orban and his party have continued to arouse resentment from the EU, the UK and the US, as he was the only one to resist an EU vote to join forces with the United Kingdom and the United States to condemn China for alleged human rights violations in Xinjiang. This followed an EU-led sanctions war against China, described by Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto as “unnecessary, self-glorifying and harmful”.
Orban’s continued partnership and cooperation with China has resulted in a marked change in Hungary’s response to the outbreak. Hungary remains the only EU member state to approve both Chinese Sinopharm and Russian Sputnik V vaccines – vaccines that have yet to be approved by the EU bloc – reaching a national vaccination rate of 40.8% fully vaccinated as of June 5, third behind Malta at number 1 and the UK at number 2.
It is clear that the ruling parties in Eastern Europe are pragmatic in their dealings with China, Zhang said.
Western European countries have made the most of the capital and market advantages, so Eastern European countries hope to improve their own economies through cooperation with China, thanks to the strong will of the China to invest abroad, Zhang added.
The Hungarian prime minister appeared to put the plan on hold and offered to hold a referendum on the project, reflecting the upcoming hurdles in China-Hungary relations marred by ulterior motives from some opposition politicians to hijack China-Hungary and China-EU relations.
Experts say this does not represent a setback for China’s education abroad. “The expansion of Chinese education abroad has always been highlighted as a ‘try’. Does the United States have less rejections for its global opening? The alleged suspension of the Hungarian project shows that China respects the host country and attaches importance to dialogue in the process, Zhang said.