China and Hungary sign 18 agreements during last leg of Xi's European tour

China and Hungary sign 18 agreements during last leg of Xi's European tour
Chinese President Xi Jinping and Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban hold press conference on May 9, 2023. / bne IntelliNews
By bne IntelliNews May 10, 2024

Chinese President Xi Jinping said mutual political trust provided a "firm foundation" for strengthening Chinese-Hungarian ties in a joint press conference with his host, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban on May 9. The two leaders signed 18 agreements with a focus on infrastructural projects.

China and Hungary had always been friends, enjoying mutual trust and striving to establish mutually beneficial cooperation, but bilateral ties were now better than ever before. Hungary’s Eastern Opening strategy aligns with China's Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), he said.

Xi arrived in late Wednesday in Budapest, the final leg of his European tour in five years, where he was welcomed by the Hungarian leader and his wife. Children dressed in Hungarian folk costumes greeted Xi and his spouse and then offered them bread and salt, according to ancient customs.

During the day, Xi met with Hungarian President Tamas Sulyok and Prime Minister Viktor Orban.

Xi’s official visit to Hungary from May 8-10 marks the 75th anniversary of diplomatic relations between the two countries.

At the joint press conference, Orban said cooperation between the two countries is "a story of continuous, uninterrupted friendship spanning decades." Hungary has always adhered to the "One China principle" and has taken a position based on mutual respect, regarding China as a friendly country.

He called China’s participation in the modernisation of the economy an honour and a great opportunity, adding that his government would continue to ensure fair conditions to Chinese companies

Orban noted that bilateral trade had risen around 4-fold in 20 years to $12bn last year and there are HUF6.4 trillion (€16.5bn) of Chinese investments underway in Hungary.

"We're creating an opportunity for cutting-edge technology from the West and cutting-edge technology from the East to meet in Hungary and build a cooperation," he said.

Hungary’s foreign minister released details of the potential list of infrastructural and energy projects that could be undertaken in the framework of China's Belt and Road Initiative and covered during the talks.

These include the V0 rail line, a railway bypass around the capital to support the transport of goods from Hungary’s eastern parts, where lots of Chinese manufacturers and suppliers have established a base, bound for the West.

Preparations could start for a rapid rail line connecting Budapest's Liszt Ferenc International Airport with the city centre, and for the development of an EV charging network.

Europe's biggest, most secure and fastest border crossing would be built between Hungary and Serbia to facilitate the transport of goods and persons, according to plans. The parties would review the option to build a crude pipeline between the two countries, and there is willingness from China and Hungary to extend cooperation in the field of nuclear energy.

Szijjarto provided one detail of an ongoing Chinese project. The first cars produced at the EV plant of Chinese vehicle maker BYD, which is building its first European plant, could roll off the lines at the Szeged base, in southern Hungary in 2025.

Xi’s visit was preceded by beefed-up security protocols and police did not allow pro-Tibet demonstrations announced for Thursday inside Buda Castle, but only allowed the protests at alternative locations not likely to be visited by Xi.

Chinese security guards in civilian clothes covered a Tibetan flag with a Chinese flag on Gellert Hill before Xi’s arrival, and according to reports, numerous guards were deployed throughout the city along the route of the president's convoy. Local media writes that their job was to spot potential opposition.

Hungary’s deepening political affiliations with China is causing concerns in Washington. Outgoing US Envoy for the Western Balkans, Gabriel Escobar, warned of the risks of the creation of a new illiberal axis against European integration.

The timing of Xi’s visit to France, Hungary and Serbia was carefully timed to increase tensions with the West.

"I do think that the countries that Xi has chosen are those that are open to challenging the unity of the Euro-Atlantic community," he was quoted by Euractiv as saying.

How the Hungarian government has cultivated its relationship with China shows that it cares little for its security or that of its allies, US Ambassador David Pressman said after meeting with journalists, referring to Hungary's incorporation of problematic Chinese technology into its critical infrastructure.