HomeTop StoriesXi lands in Hungary as the security gap in the EU widens

Xi lands in Hungary as the security gap in the EU widens

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Insights from the Central European Institute of Asian Studies, Növekedés and Royal United Services Institute

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Chinese leader Xi Jinping arrived in Budapest on Wednesday, the final stop of his week-long visit to Europe that many experts see as a strategic play to deepen ideological rifts in the European Union.

Xi’s first stop in France met some resistance from French President Emmanuel Macron and the head of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, both of whom pressed him over China’s cheap green technology and its effect on European competition. The pair also criticized Xi over Beijing’s continued support for Russia in the war in Ukraine. But experts agreed that the invitation to France is a signal that the EU is not willing to completely cut ties with Beijing.

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Xi could step up a bit during his stops in Serbia and Hungary – both countries are NATO-skeptical and in favor of stronger ties with China. The show of support for Eastern Europe could further divide the fragile bloc on security and economic policy issues – to Beijing’s (and Russia’s) advantage.

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Hungarians’ views on China are complicated

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Sources: Central European Institute for Asian Studies, Növekedés, Századvég, Telex

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán remains China’s most important EU ally, but his people have more nuanced views. A 2020 survey found that the majority of Hungarians – including Orbán supporters – had a poor image of China, especially in light of the country’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic. But a more recent survey from 2022 shows that negative sentiment is decreasing as China invests in the Hungarian economy. A 2023 survey by conservative think tank Századvég found that 79% of Hungarians oppose more trade restrictions with China, but 50% of Hungarians also oppose Chinese EV battery factories being built there for environmental reasons, according to news site Telex . the affection is not entirely unlimited.

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Xi’s visit to a NATO-sceptic country could further fragment the EU

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Sources: Politika, Royal United Services Institute

In an op-ed in the Serbian newspaper, Xi said Serbia and China were “adulterated in blood” after the 1995 NATO bombing of the Chinese embassy in Belgrade, which killed three journalists. The fact that Xi immediately lashed out at NATO after his more optimistic visit to France is “like playing Jekyll and Hyde,” wrote China watcher Sari Arho Havrén of the security think tank RUSI. But Xi cannot play both a NATO-friendly and anti-NATO role, she argued. With Xi showing his true anti-NATO colors in Serbia and Hungary, his visit to Paris could ultimately do little to influence the EU’s overall security position and bring it closer to the US, she argued. But that could well be Xi’s goal: to force a wedge in the EU between NATO-friendly Western countries and NATO-sceptic countries in the east, the Financial Times wrote.

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Beijing exerts a chilling influence on Hungarian press freedom

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Sources: Xinhua, Semafor, Reporter Without Borders

Ahead of Xi’s arrival in Budapest, China’s state news service Xinhua and the Hungarian Ministry of Economy reached an agreement requiring Xinhua to “continue to cooperate with Hungarian media” to promote the countries’ bilateral ties. The agreement is the latest in Beijing’s long-running influence campaign in Hungary. Earlier this year, Budapest announced that Chinese police officers would patrol Hungarian cities with many Chinese expats and tourists – potentially chilling any opposition activity. Meanwhile, press freedoms in Hungary have deteriorated since Orbán came to power, while propaganda has spread: Hungary recently passed a law requiring foreign-funded news media to publicize and register as foreign agents, a reflection of the restrictive Russian media laws.

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