Anger grows in Hungary over China's university plans in Budapest
DW, 06 Jun 2021
A new partnership between Beijing and Budapest has angered Hungarian taxpayers who will have to carry the nearly one billion euro financial burden.
China is building a European campus of its Shanghai-based Fudan University. Not only are Hungarians to pick up the tab, but no local contractors will get to work on the project. Most Hungarians oppose the plan, and anger is growing against Prime Minister Viktor Orban. Thousands have taken to the streets of the capital to protest their government's cooperation with an authoritarian regime.
Initially the plan was to build affordable dorms, especially for people from Hungary’s rural areas.
The ground has been broken for various projects – including a new athletic stadium. But the government is also allowing China to build the very first European campus of the Shanghai based Fudan University on the site.
According to government documents obtained by the Hungarian investigative media outlet "Direkt36," the Chinese campus will be financed by a 1.3 billion Euro loan, paid for by Hungarian taxpayers.
The journalist behind the report sees other worrying implications for the project. Szabolcs Panyi says Hungary’s intensifying ties with China create a friendly environment for Chinese intelligence.
During various visits with his Chinese counterparts over the past decade, Prime Minister Viktor Orban has been openly pursuing an "Eastern Opening strategy" in the hopes of attracting Chinese investment
At the beginning of the COVID pandemic Orban personally inspected tons of protective equipment that had arrived at the Budapest airport from China. Hungary is also the only country in the EU to inoculate its citizens with the Chinese COVID vaccine. And it recently vetoed an EU joint statement expressing concern over China’s tightening control over Hong Kong.
So, who really benefits from this relationship?
The campus will be built using Chinese labor and building material shipped in from China.
And not everyone in Hungary is a fan of the Eastern Opening strategy: Budapest's mayor Gergely Karacsony is a key opponent of Orban. He has been showing his opposition to what he calls "Chinese influence buying" in his own special way: Four streets near the planned Chinese construction site have recently been renamed. Students at the new campus may have to take "Free Hong Kong Road" or "Dalai Lama Road" to get to class.
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