Hungarian PM Viktor Orban only EU only leader in Beijing for BRI forum

Hungarian PM Viktor Orban only EU only leader in Beijing for BRI forum
Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban held talks with Chinese Premier Li Qiang on October 16. / bne IntelliNews
By bne IntelliNews October 17, 2023

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban held talks with Chinese Premier Li Qiang, signing ten economic co-operation agreements in Beijing on October 16. No details were unveiled on these agreements. Orban will address the Belt and Road Forum in Beijing on Wednesday.

The Hungarian premier is one of the 20 heads of state and the only EU leader to attend the two-day Belt and Road Forum, which will commemorate the 10th anniversary of China’s global infrastructure project to connect nations along the ancient Silk Road trade routes. The event is set to open later on Tuesday, 17 October with representatives from over 140 countries.

By June 2023, China had signed more than 200 BRI cooperation agreements with over 150 countries and 30-plus international organisations across five continents.

After talks with the Chinese premier, Orban highlighted the personal friendship and fruitful co-operation, stressing that the political friendship between the two countries has deeper, cultural foundations. "We are China's good friend in Europe, and we have high hopes for further co-operation," the Hungarian Prime Minister said.

Hungary was the first European country to sign a BRI co-operation agreement with China, which aligns with the country’s  "Opening to the East" policy.

Hungary's strongman has sought to strengthen ties with countries outside the EU, mostly in fast-developing countries in Asia. By the end of 2022, Hungary had the largest volume of Chinese investments in the region and inward Chinese FDI investments are likely to break new records.

Hungary is expected to double last year's investment record of €6.5bn, with much of those investments coming from Chinese companies, according to Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade Peter Szijjarto, after talks with his Chinese counterpart in Beijing.

Hungary, a meeting point of Western and Eastern investments, has manufacturing sites of the three largest German carmakers, and soon five of the 10 largest battery makers in the world, he said. Those investments ensure economic growth and prevent mass job losses, he added.

The revamping of the Budapest-Belgrade railway line is the flagship of Hungarian-Chinese cooperation, and will put Hungary in a leading position in moving goods from Greek ports to Europe, he said. The upgrade will be ready by 2025, he added.

Prior to Orban’s trip to Beijing, local media reported that the halt in the construction would be a key issue in talks with Chinese leaders. The project has come to a standstill, as the Chinese constructor has been unable to supply the security system required to meet EU standards.

The Chinese-Hungarian consortium said that construction costs have skyrocketed due to the soaring inflation and the project, launched initially with a €2.1bn budget, will require additional funding,

Bilateral co-operation in financial ties has also strengthened between China and Hungary since 2010.

China Construction Bank (CCB), the world’s second-largest bank in assets, opened a new branch in April. The Bank of China also established its branch in Budapest in the mid-2010s.  Hungary is also home to the first renminbi clearing centre in the CEE region.

Orban met with CCB chairman Tian Guoli in Beijing, who thanked the government for its guidance in having the bank set up its business in Hungary. According to Tian Guoli this will give new momentum to bilateral partnership.

Hungary welcomed CCB's local branch as a partner in electric vehicle production, new energy projects and numerous other areas, Orban said.

"The alternative we seek is to expand our economic ties both with the West and East. I'm convinced that this is the only way for Hungary to preserve its competitiveness and security," Orban added.  

According to local media citing the Kremlin, there will be no bilateral talks between Orban and Russian President Vladimir Putin on the sidelines of the two-day forum.

As the two leaders are attending the same event, they will certainly communicate in some way, Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov was quoted as saying.