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Viktor Orban; Chinese Premier Li Keqiang. Photo supplied

Hungary and China strengthen trade ties ahead of BRI meeting

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban met with Chinese Premier Li Keqiang in Beijing on Thursday, ahead of the Belt and Road Forum later this week, according to a report by state news agency MTI.

Published: April 26, 2019, 7:56 am

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    Orban arrived in the Chinese capital to attend the Belt and Road forum, where 37 heads of state and world leaders are expected on Friday and Saturday. Hungary will be seeking stronger relations with countries in the East, according to official government website

    The Belt and Road Initiative is fully in harmony with Hungarian interests,  Orban said on Thursday in Beijing, adding that he would not bend to “any kind of external ideological pressure”.

    Hungary still  operates in the capacity of the “eastern frontier” of the western project of the EU and its participation in the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) ensures Hungary’s economic importance for the continent. Budapest is home to Eastern Europe’s largest Chinese population.

    Ahead of the talks, Orban said it was a great “honour” to be invited to the second forum of the economic initiative, to be held on Friday and Saturday in Beijing.

    Belt and Road is a “serious safeguard of worldwide free trade and the freedom of world economy”, Orban said. “Hungarians need an open world economy,” he said. The Hungarian government will “always act according to national interests”, Orban added.

    Speaking in Kazakhstan on Wednesday, the Hungarian leader said that the balance between the East and the West has changed and Hungary does not see this new situation as a threat, but as a source of opportunities.

    Chinese companies have greatly contributed to modernising the Hungarian economy, Orban said. Chinese investments have now reached some 4.5 billion dollars in Hungary, he noted, and proposed that the inflow of capital investments be upheld in the future.

    In his greeting to the Hungarian delegation, Li Keqiang praised Sino-Hungarian cooperation and expressed hope that it should be extended further in sectors such as digitisation.

    Cooperation between the countries has already brought results and offers great opportunities for large companies as well as SMEs of both countries, he said. Free trade and economic development will strengthen world peace, too, Li said.

    After the talks, Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto and Innovation and Technology Minister Laszlo Palkovics signed bilateral agreements with Chinese officials.

    Among them were agreements to set up a Hungarian-Chinese cooperation centre, cooperation in sports, creating a “digital Silk Road”, setting up a working group to facilitate bilateral trade and the export of Hungarian poultry to China.

    The prime minister’s press chief told MTI that the two leaders marked the 70th anniversary of diplomatic ties between Hungary and China, the successes in economic cooperation and European affairs.

    China is willing to align the BRI with development strategies of Hungary, follow the principle of extensive consultation, joint contribution and shared benefits, and seek mutual benefits, Li said.

    China stands ready to work with Hungary to enhance relations between China and central and eastern European countries as well as China-EU relations, Li said.

    “What started as something with a very economic rationale to it,” Agnes Szunomar, head of the Research Group on Developmental Economics at the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, told Asia Times. “It has become something increasingly political.”

    “Hungary has always had a special relationship with China,” says Dr Zoltan Vorus, Assistant Professor of International Relations at the University of Pecs and a China foreign policy expert. “Partly, it comes from a belief that Hungarians originally came from China, Eastern and Central Asia, and we are therefore brother nations.”

    “The Chinese have always been accepted here,” says Vorus. “They have learned Hungarian and very much adapted to Hungarian society.”

    An example of this cooperation between China, Hungary as well as Serbia, the three agreed to build a railway between Budapest and Belgrade.

    Hungary’s share of the $3-billion project was to be 85 perent financed by a 20-year loan from China’s Eximbank, with the rest coming from the Hungarian government.

    On April 12, the Hungarian leader told the China-CEE summit in Dubrovnik that new contracts could soon be signed, with the line providing a key part of the BRI, opening up European markets.

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